A fair question and an honest article and my honest, if not entirely fair, response…
Why are 22 of the 24 new Amtrak writing residents white?
This year, a majority of those selected members are white, and many creatives aren’t happy about it.
Amtrak writes that “the residents offer a diverse representation of the writing community and hail from across the country.” There certainly is some representation of different backgrounds—lots of women, some LGBT writers, and some disabled writers, too. However, 22 of the 24 selected are white, and there is not a single black writer…
PS – Here’s the full text of my response:
Hi Jaya, I can only speak for myself as an individual judge. Indeed when I saw the photos of the winners yesterday for the first time when they were announced my heart sank. As you’ve said it’s diverse in so many other ways but there are no black faces. Obviously this wasn’t done intentionally. As a judge I had no clue of an applicant’s ethnicity, appearance, or with which affinity group they identify, unless they state it in their bio, artistic statement, or any autobiographical pieces they may have included with their writing samples. Judges aren’t given specific guidelines. Speaking for myself, I was looking first and foremost at the artistic merit of the sample, then their publication history that might qualify them as a professional writer pursing a writing career in earnest and not just as a hobby, and their statement on why this residency would be beneficial to them. Should the application be modified for future applicants and judges instructed more specifically to weigh race in the application process? Maybe so. These are issues faced by every theatre organization with which I’ve been involved as a board member, every screenwriting contest I’ve ever judged, any college admission portfolio I’ve been asked to evaluate. I can’t speak for Amtrak but I would suspect they’d be wide open to suggestions for best practices for how to improve the diversity of the judges as well as the applicant pool. Feel free to shoot me any followups. Happy to talk more.
Now it can be told. This year I served as an Amtrak Writers Residency judge after being a recipient of a residency the previous year. The winners have just been announced. Last year I believe I was the only one of 24 writers who self-identified as a playwright or screenwriter. You’ll notice that this year there are several in the mix, not that I was the sole impetus for this but I was in there swinging. Some are recognizable heavy hitters and some are early career. Overall a good mix I think. If you’re a writer and haven’t entered this thing yet–why? I urge you to do so next year. It is unique and worthy and I’d love to see it continue to grow in scope and acceptance as an incubator for new work in all media.
Amtrak Residency Program Selects Writers
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — During the next year, selected members of the literary community will travel on Amtrak routes that crisscross the country and spend the time working on their writing projects, providing a unique journey and workspace as part of the #AmtrakResidency program.
This is the second group of writers selected for the program, which offers a travel experience with amazing scenery, an environment that fosters engaging connections, and the ability to explore and be inspired by the diversity of landscapes America has to offer.
“We are excited to build on the success of the residency program and offer a second group of writers a creative environment to focus on the work of their choice,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of public relations. “Whether traveling for business or pleasure, passenger rail helps travelers avoid the frustrations and hurdles associated with other modes of transportation – continuously making Amtrak the smarter way to travel, which we are confident the writers will find inspiring.”
A diverse group of writers were selected for the residency program. About two writers per month will travel round trip on pre-selected (based on availability) trains, and cover all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes. A complete list of selected residents and bios can be found on the Amtrak blog.
Applications were reviewed by a panel representing the literary community including published writers and former Amtrak Residents Lindsay Moran and Jeffrey Stanley, Amtrak Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Corporate Communications Joe McHugh and writer and teacher Jessica Gross.
Gross, a Manhattan-based writer, traveled on the Lake Shore Limited as a trial run of the residency program and her support spurred the launch of the formal program in March 2014. Her piece, “Writing The Lake Shore Limited” was published by the Paris Review.
“My 2014 Amtrak residency from New York to Chicago and back was peaceful, contemplative, and so fruitful for my writing,” Gross said. “I’m delighted to have played a part in sending a new crop of writers on the rails this year.”
Happy for Sarita, she deserves it all. Forever grateful that she starred in my short “Lady in a Box” a decade ago, produced by Matt Myers and Tai Burkholder and co-starring Luke Rosen, John Lordan, et al.
More at http://www.brain-on-fire.com/lady.
My Posthumous Friendship With a Civil Rights Hero
Back to School
I met Lawrence Gibson at a turning point in my life. After landing my first literary agent and riding the high of a hit play I had abandoned a relationship and a lucrative day job to devote myself full-time to being a starving playwright. I crashed temporarily on the couch of my generous Uncle Joey and, despite an MFA, sought out only part-time office jobs. I soon found myself with a receptionist gig at one of New York City’s many prominent private schools.
At first the administers was baffled by my application; surely, they thought, I was using the job opening as an entrée into teaching there, but I assured them I had no interest. I just wanted to leave at noon every day. They gave me the job on a trial basis. On my third day I met someone who seemed all but invisible to me, and who would, due to my own self-absorption, stop seeming that way to me only after he died. Then his spirit reached across from the netherworld, grabbed my collar and shook me into noticing him. He also enlisted my help. CONT’D AT MEDIUM.COM>>
Well, you aren’t mentioned in the book but I knew from the New York Times obit that he had a sibling named Valerie. Nice to meet you. I’m surprised not to have heard from you sooner as this isn’t the first time I’ve talked openly of my hope to adapt Get Off My Ship. Please see my previous blog posts athttp://brain-on-fire.com/jefeblog/tag/copy-berg (sadly I never got to talk about it on Coast to Coast AM as I had hoped to do). I trust we’re on the same team in wanting Gibson and Berg’s Navy story told, remembered, and restored to its rightful place in history. I consider them civil rights heroes.
I recently also received an email from someone at the Brooklyn Historical Society asking if I knew Copy’s exact address on Dean Street. They really just wanted to know if he lived on the Brooklyn Heights section of Dean for an upcoming exhibit about gay rights activists in Brooklyn Heights. I’ve told them that as far as I know he lived a few blocks away from Lawrence in Boerum Hill, not the Heights. Steve is also looking through Lawrence’s stacks and stacks and stacks of papers to see if he can find anything but so far has had no luck on a specific Dean Street address for Copy. Is this something you might know? If so I’m happy to put you in touch with them.
As for your posting and your three terse emails via my personal blog, I’ll work my way through them in the order received… CONT’D AT MEDIUM.COM>>
Hillary won the debate. I know because the moment it ended cnn.com told me so with the all caps headline CLINTON SWEEPS DEBATE. Not sure what criteria the editors were using. Today it’s a little more tempered but same unwavering message. Likewise another unabashed Clinton dynasty backer the NY Times sez A NIGHT GOES CLINTON’S WAY. You aren’t thinking of bucking the system and voting for another Democrat are you? A handful of people at the top of the media food chain are working hard to make sure you aren’t.
My beef isn’t with Hillary, it’s with the mainstream media on both sides. I’m tired of living in a cartoon.
UPDATE 10/15/15: Thank God I’m not the only one who noticed. See below.
thehill.com: “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) raised $1.3 million in four hours after the first Democratic presidential debate started on Tuesday night, according to his campaign. His campaign blasted out an email seeking donations from his line defending Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State. The remark from Sanders was the most retweeted of any candidate of the night with more than 12,000 shares on social media. It was also one of the night’s most memorable moments and helped contribute to Sanders dominating attention on social media and in online searches.”
Pundits Thought Clinton Beat Sanders – but Did Viewers? (fair.org) “Pundits who said Hillary Clinton won the first Democratic debate failed to mention that every online poll one could find that asked web visitors who won the debate named Bernie Sanders…”
To: Jeffrey Stanley
Here is my week 5 Homework. Unfortunately my roommate caught some sort of stomach bug at a party over the weekend and I just got it passed to me yesterday, and I was laying on my couch watching South Park and eating soup and forgot about all schoolwork until the episode where the kids write “Scrotty McBooogerballs” came on and I had a personal reflection on things that I had written myself, and remembered that I needed to send you my treatment for my final project as well as my other homework.
From: Jeffrey Stanley
a) I need a doctor’s excuse
b) there’s no homework attached here
Ironically I was also sitting watching South Park tonight and I enjoyed it up until the part where Kenny got killed, which made me think of your final grade.
(News Flash: Jeffrey Stanley’s BONEYARDS reincarnates in Philly this June at the Art Church of West Philadelphia as part of the 2015 SoLow Fest. Tickets and full details here.)
Dear Friends, Just a quick note to let you know I’m going to be the primary guest on Coast to Coast AM on Friday night 4/17/15. I’m a longtime fan of this nationwide show so this is a dream come true for me. I’ll hopefully be talking about the screenplay I’m currently writing (LITTLE ROCK, a bio-pic of artist and Navy Ensign Vernon “Copy” Berg, the first officer to legally challenge the US military for anti-gay discrimination; my script is an adaptation of a memoir written by his partner at the time entitled Get Off My Ship: Ensign Berg v. the US Navy by E. Lawrence Gibson), BONEYARDS of course, my ancient hit play TESLA’S LETTERS and my recent experiences on my Amtrak Residency trip looking for ghosts in Chicago’s Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and exploring the supernatural with the adorable Iowa ghost-hunting family I fell in with for a few days in Colorado (please go here to have your mind blown).
Coast to Coast AM is a North American (United States and Canada) late-night radio talk show that deals with a variety of topics but most frequently ones that relate to either the paranormal or conspiracy theories. It airs seven nights a week 1:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. EST. Originally created and hosted by Art Bell, since 2013 the program is hosted mainly by George Noory. Coast to Coast AM has a cumulative weekly audience of 2.75 million listeners, making it the most listened-to program in its time slot. It’s heard on nearly 570 stations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Guam.
Film industry guests have included screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, screenwriter Laurice Molinari, veteran comedy director Tom Shadyac, Big Bang Theory executive producer Eric Kaplan, and others. The format consists of a combination of live callers and long format interviews. The subject matter covers unusual topics and is full of personal stories related to callers, junk science, pseudo experts and non-peer reviewed scientists. While program content is often focused on paranormal and fringe subjects, sometimes world-class scientists such as Michio Kaku and Brian Greene are featured in long format interviews. Topics discussed include the near-death experience, climate change, cosmology, quantum physics, remote viewing, hauntings, contact with extraterrestrials, psychic reading, metaphysics, science and religion, conspiracy theories, Area 51, crop circles, cryptozoology, Bigfoot, the Hollow Earth hypothesis, and science fiction literature, among others. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the events of that day (as well as alternate theories surrounding them) and current U.S. counter-terrorism strategy have also become frequent themes.
Where can you hear it? http://www.coasttocoastam.com/stations
Many thanks for your continued interest and support, and I hope to see you on the radio next Friday night.
I woke up about 6:30am to see a brilliant quarter moon hanging over dark Denver so close you wanted to eat it. I jumped down from my upper berth and commenced to working more on revisions to LITTLE ROCK. By the time we pulled out of Denver the sun was up, and from here on out was where the finest viewing on the California Zephyr began.
The observation car was absolutely packed, a standing room only crowd, so I went downstairs to the (continue reading…)
I visited the most haunted place in the US and bumped into a witch. The witch bumped into a crazy writer.
I got up before dawn to sit in the observatory car and work on LITTLE ROCK while watching twilight brighten gray flat farmland becoming suburbs as we pulled into Waterloo, Indiana. Later I moved to the cafe car for breakfast and wound up sitting across from fellow passenger Mark Wyatt, a grass roots activist who runs the 2000-member strong Iowa Bicycle Coalition, on a return trip from DC where he was “lobbying Congress.” Why didn’t he just fly there? “I don’t enjoy flying and I’ve come to enjoy train travel. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and I can write three grants along the way.” He and his organization have come up with some novel ways of increasing bicycle appreciation and awareness in Iowa, including the annual bacon ride, where cyclists make stops along the way to enjoy BLTs, bacon chocolate sundaes and bacon (continue reading…)
About to ride the Amtrak Residency rails and write. Philly to DC to board Capitol Limited overnight to Chicago, then California Zephyr to SF and back. See youse (as they say in South Philly) in 10 days.
Mainly I’ll be working on a polish of a screenplay, working title LITTLE ROCK, a bio-pic of artist Vernon “Copy” Berg, the first officer to legally challenge the US military for anti-gay discrimination in 1975. It’s adapted from the memoir Get Off My Ship: Ensign Berg v. the US Navy by E. Lawrence Gibson, Berg’s partner at the time.
I applied for this award because my wife Bidisha told me about it and knows of my love of trains. In particular (continue reading…)