Last year, Canada's Via Rail kicked off a program to grant free trips to singers and musicians in exchange for on-board performances. Now America's rail system, Amtrak, has started granting on-board residencies to writers who want to create work during long-distance trips.
So far, the idea is happening loosely. There's no way yet to fill out an application form, per se. Instead, writers are tweeting @Amtrak with the hashtag #AmtrakResidency to express interest, and the rail entity's social media team has been selecting artists and scheduling free passage for them.
One such on-board residency was for a trip to Chicago, another for a trip to Portland, Maine. The line won't bump paying customers for writers, of course—so far, it seems to be mostly a way of filling seats that would otherwise go empty. For now, all it asks in return is that the writer perhaps sends a few tweets to tell America what they're up to on board an Amtrak train. Reps for Amtrak have said they believe it will be a "mutually beneficial relationship" for both it and American artists.
The idea was inspired, it seems, by a gifted young writer named Alexander Chee (Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night), who is now arranging his own rail-residency for May.
It's starting to feel like the WPA up in here. Got to say: It's a good feeling to see artists being encouraged through travel.