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A Train of Thought: Mason PhD Alumna Wins Amtrak Fellowship

September 21, 2016   /   by Buzz McClain

Sarah Federman

Sarah Federman is turning her successful School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution 2016 PhD dissertation into a book, and it’s fitting that she’s writing it on a train. Federman is among the group of 23 writers selected for the Amtrak Residency program. Writers work on their projects on long-distance train rides lasting two to five days.

There were more than 600 applications for the 24 fellowships, which were awarded by a panel of four judges. Among them are a Washington Post columnist, a New York City playwright, a film director, a novelist and several poets.

Federman’s book addresses several themes that loom large in the conflict field, with a major one being the role corporations play in large-scale conflicts. Her thesis turns on the involvement of the French national rail system, SNCF, as collaborators in the deportation of Jews to concentration camps during World War II. She asks if the modern SNCF has owned up to its responsibility and wonders why so many other companies have been expunged.

“Lately I’ve been thinking, ‘What is it about trains?’” she said. “Why are they such a symbol? Why are they so powerful in our consciousness?”

To follow that train of thought, she’s looking forward to traveling along the Oregon Trail, from Chicago to San Francisco, starting in the spring.

“The grant gives me time to work on the book, but it also lets me really put myself inside trains, to be in, to see what the mystique is all about.”