The Controversy Around the #AmtrakResidency

Amtrak’s new residency application, which will grant a lucky 24 writers a free train trip of 2-5 days duration in which to focus on their projects, has caused a stir in the literary world. One source tells me that nearly 7,000 proposals have swamped the train line; even if the number is half that, however, the chances of being given a ticket to ride (.6%) are slimmer than getting into Harvard (6.3%).

To laypeople, this perhaps sounds crazy. Who competes for the opportunity to take a long-distance train trip, without even a city like Rome or Prague to greet you on the other side? Remember that episode of “Sex and the City“? (Sidenote: God, Carrie is insufferable.) But writers, especially fledglings — and in this economy, we are almost all fledglings — have so little. No funds, no structure, no support. Everyone is always telling us to get a real job. Writers’ residencies, which offer crucial time, space, and community, can be a boon, but most of them have associated costs, making them prohibitive for someone just scraping by. Amtrak is filling a need by offering writers a temporary, mobile Cabin of One’s Own. So why are people so angry?

Used Books, New Books

I think this particular comment is worth pulling out from yesterday’s post on cheaply acquired books, because it’s an important point about how we balance being thrifty with being socially conscious consumers. Authors don’t get paid from the sale of used books, but they may gain readers who will support them in the future. We want to support businesses like the Paradox Bookstore, while also supporting writers, editors, and designers by paying full price for books. Why not do both? Support your local secondhand store, or church, or wherever it is you’re going to find secondhand books, but buy new ones from your favorite authors as well.

If you went to college, you probably were required to spend thousands of dollars on books, and as someone who had to take loans out to pay for these books, you probably bought many of these books used, and then sold them back to the bookstore after your courses were completed. This is unfortunate for the authors and publishers of those books because they didn’t see a dime from any of those sales. It’s likely that most college students aren’t aware of this, and they’ve (we’ve) also become conditioned to seek out used books, or get their books at a discount by shopping on Amazon.