Willy Vlautin

Portrait Willy Vlautin
© Lee Posey

Willy Vlautin was born in Reno, Nevada in 1967. He was the founder, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the band Richmond Fontaine (1994-2016) and now plays in the band The Delines. He wrote his first stories and songs at the age of eleven, inspired by songwriters and novelists such as Paul Kelly, Willie Nelson, Tom Waits, William Kennedy, Raymond Carver, and John Steinbeck.
Vlautin’s six novels to date are often set in Oregon, Nevada, or New Mexico and reflect the lives of people on the economic and social margins of society. His debut, »The Motel Life« (2005), follows the story of a pair of brothers from Reno. They are school dropouts and keep their heads above water with odd jobs. One night, one of them runs over a teenager on a bicycle in a snowstorm. The brothers leave town and flee to Montana, burning the car on the way and only returning to Reno separately. »The Independent« highlighted that »The brothers’ relationship is at the centre of the book«, noting that »Vlautin is clearly reaching back past Bukowski and the others to the prototype of all tragic road stories, that of Lenny and George in ›Of Mice and Men‹.« The main character of »Northline« (2008), whose first edition was enhanced with a soundtrack by Vlautin and his bandmate Paul Brainard, is waitress Allison Johnson, who leaves Las Vegas to start over in Reno. »Lean on Pete« (2010) is a young adult novel about a fifteen-year-old boy who works at a rundown Portland racetrack and befriends a washed-up racehorse. »The Free« (2014) tells of people who have been battered by life. It centers on a maimed Iraq veteran struggling to stay alive. »Don’t Skip Out on Me« (2018) is about a Native American-Irish ranch hand who tries his luck as a professional boxer on the streets of Las Vegas. Most recently, »The Night Always Comes« (2021) is about a young woman struggling to earn her high school diploma while working on the side. When she wants to buy a house for her family in Portland’s overpriced real estate market, she gets caught in the depths of her own past and has to face the reality of her life.
Vlautin has received three Oregon Book Awards, the Nevada Silver Pen Award, and has been inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame and the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and a nominee for the Impac Award (International Dublin Literary Award). His novels have been translated into eleven languages, and »The Motel Life« and »Lean on Pete« have also been made into films. Vlautin teaches in the Writing Program at Pacific University and lives in Scappoose, Oregon.