Willy Vlautin (born 1967) is an American author and the lead singer and songwriter of Portland, Oregon band Richmond Fontaine. Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, he has released nine studio albums since the late nineties with his band while he has written four novels: The Motel Life, Northline, Lean on Pete and The Free.
Richmond Fontaine is an alt.country band that is consistently recognized for Vlautin's rich lyrics. They have recorded nine studio albums and toured extensively in Europe, where they have a particularly strong following, as well as in Australia and the US.
Working as both a songwriter and novelist provides Vlautin with a mechanism to develop the same characters and situations in both songs and his books. The main protagonist in Northline (itself a song from Richmond Fontaine's Winnemucca album) is Allison Johnson. "Allison Johnson" was the title of a song on their Post to Wire album. Some of the references in his lyrics also persist across albums, such as Reno's Fitzgerald Hotel. Mentioned on Post to Wire, it became the title of the next album, The Fitzgerald.
Published in the US, several European and Asian countries, Vlautin's first book, The Motel Life was well received. It was an editor's choice in the New York Times Book Review and named one of the top 25 books of the year by the Washington Post. Polsky Films released the film version of The Motel Life, starring Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning and Kris Kristofferson, in November 2013. The film was praised by critics across the US and won three prizes at the Rome International Film Festival: Audience Choice, Best Screenplay, and Editing.
His second, Northline, was also critically hailed, and Vlautin was declared an important new American literary realist. Famed writer George Pelecanos stated that Northline was his favorite book of the decade. The first edition of this novel came with an original instrumental soundtrack performed by Vlautin and longtime bandmate Paul Brainard.
In 2008 Vlautin released his first spoken word CD, A Jockey's Christmas, a black comedy about an overweight, alcoholic jockey who goes home to Reno for the holidays.
Vlautin's third novel, Lean on Pete, is the story of a 15-year-old boy who works and lives on a rundown race track in Portland, Oregon, and befriends a failed race horse named Lean on Pete. The Sunday Herald stated, "Lean on Pete confirms his status as one of the most emotionally charged writers in America..." Eileen Battersby of the Irish Times stated “As one boy’s journey, Lean on Pete is as real as blood: as a novel it is remarkable. Willy Vlautin, romantic and realist, has written something special that will make you shudder, weep, rage and wonder at how such things happen and do, and how some individuals such as Charley can suffer them, absorb the grief, and somehow survive. How good is contemporary US fiction? This good: catch your breath good.” Cheryl Strayed of The Oregonian states "By the time ‘Lean on Pete’ reaches its sweet but unsentimental end, Charley Thompson isn’t a character in a novel, but a boy readers have come to love. ‘Lean on Pete’ riveted me. Reading it, I was heartbroken and moved; enthralled and convinced. This is serious American literature." Lean on Pete won two Oregon Book Awards: the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and the Peoples Choice Award.
As a novelist, Vlautin has cited writers such as John Steinbeck, Raymond Carver, Barry Gifford, and William Kennedy as influences. As a songwriter, he has cited Tom Waits, Shane McGowan, John Doe, and Australian musician Paul Kelly as influences. HIs writing is highly evocative of the American West; all three of his novels being set in and around Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico. His books explore the circumstances and relationships of people near the bottom of America's social and economic spectrum, itinerant, and often ailed by alcohol addiction.
- The Motel Life (2006)
- Northline (2008)
- Lean on Pete (2010)
- The Free (2014)
- McKay, Alistair (2007). "Richmond Fontaine – Thirteen Cities". CD Review (Uncut). Retrieved July 4, 2009.
- Wray, John (June 24, 2007). "The Motel Life". New York Times. Retrieved July 4, 2009.
- Gibbs, Jonathan (April 25, 2006). "The Motel Life". The Independent (UK). Retrieved July 4, 2009.
- Smart, James (December 20, 2008). "Northline". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved July 4, 2009.
- Marshall, John (May 1, 2008). "Down-and-out tale 'Northline' showcases up-and-coming Portland writer Vlautin". Book Review (Seattle Post Intelligencer). Retrieved July 4, 2009.
- Marshall, John (May 5, 2008). "Willy Vlautin plays a tune for his book". Interview (Seattle Post Intelligencer). Retrieved July 4, 2009.