In December, the novelist Alexander Chee mentioned in an interview that he likes to write on trains. “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers,” he said, referring to the programs that house, and sometimes feed, artists so that they can focus on their work.
...Chee, the writer who proposed the Amtrak residency in the first place, is a friend of mine. He wrote much of his first novel on the F train in New York, on his way to and from work at a midtown steakhouse. (Additional full disclosure: I’m also friendly with Tenorio and have attended traditional artists’ residencies at the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, to which I’ve made small—double-digit—donations.) While Amtrak was planning Gross’s trip, it was also working on one for Chee, in May—a three-day voyage from New York to Portland, Oregon.
When I asked Chee whether he felt a commercially sponsored residency could be problematic, he replied, in an e-mail, “Well, it could be—if there were conditions. But there weren’t.”
Chee seemed enthusiastic about the momentum that has gathered around his idea. He is teaching in Austin this semester, and after classes end he will fly to New York, where he lives, and board a series of trains to reach Portland. He doesn’t have plans to write about the experience in any concrete form, though he expects he will mention it on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, “in the diaristic mode I usually do when I travel anywhere.”
It will be summertime; the bare-branched trees and slushy streets from Gross’s photos will have been replaced by rolling grass and dun-colored hills. But the train cabin itself might feel familiar—the ideal space for a writer, like a carrel in a college library.