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Book News: Amtrak Unveils Writers Picked For A Residency On The Rails

All aboard the writer's desk.
Mat Hayward
Getty Images for Amtrak
All aboard the writer's desk.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Amtrak has announced the inaugural class of its brand-new writers residency program. Out of a crop of some 16,000 applications, the railroad service has picked just 24 writers to ride the rails on a long-distance train — and to write while they do so.

The announcement has been nearly a year in the making, taking a steady but winding route from conception to completion. The residency began as a brief wish spoken by author Alexander Chee in an interview, found support in a tweet from Jessica Gross, soon ran as a test case — and an article in The Paris Review — and finally arrived at the two-dozen applicants now chosen, partly by Chee himself, who served on the panel of judges.

The group ranges from a doctoral candidate at work on his dissertation (Korey Garibaldi) to a former spy for the CIA (Lindsay Moran), from a noted film critic (Lisa Schwarzbaum) to even a regular NPR contributor (Glen Weldon). You can see the full list of residents here.

'Do Not Underestimate This Anger':Neil Gaiman describes what it's like to arrive late to an interview with Terry Pratchett — and the simmering anger it exposed in the otherwise kindly, prolific writer. In his introduction to Pratchett's nonfiction collection A Slip of the Keyboard, excerpted in The Guardian, Gaiman speaks of Pratchett's distinctive style:

"I suppose that, if you look quickly and are not paying attention, you might, perhaps, mistake it for jolly. But beneath any jollity there is a foundation of fury. Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise."

A Break For Flash Fiction:Zimiri Yaseen has a quiet, sweet — and brief — story about a son and his stroke-stricken father, just out in Guernica. It reads: "like a giant clam taking a deep sea breath, i imagine, his fingers slowly unfurled. then i would slap at his dry palm and the fingers would close, slowly."

Slate Goes Back For Seconds:Slate and the Whiting Foundation are collaborating to give second novels a bit of a boost. Citing the disappointment or neglect that often dogs novelists' sophomore efforts, Dan Kois explains that the Slate/Whiting Second Novel List, also called "We Second That," isn't exactly another prize, so much as it is a means of encouragement and publicity: "Is this an award? No, not really. It's akin to being retweeted by your literary idol, or finding out that the classmate you have a crush on thinks you're cute. A mash note from the cosmos!"

The list of five novels will be announced Nov. 19, followed by a week of essays featuring each book in turn.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.