Episode 55 - Willy Vlautin

Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, Willy Vlautin started playing guitar and writing songs as a teenager and quickly became immersed in music. It was a Paul Kelly song, based on Raymond Carver’s Too Much Water So Close to Home that inspired him to start writing stories. Vlautin has published four novels: THE MOTEL LIFE (2007), NORTHLINE (2008), LEAN ON PETE (2010), and THE FREE (2014). He is the winner of multiple awards, including the Oregon Book Award and the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. 

Vlautin founded the band Richmond Fontaine in 1994. The band has produced nine studio albums to date, plus a handful of live recordings and EPs. Driven by Vlautin’s dark, story-like songwriting, the band has achieved critical acclaim at home and across Europe. 2014 will see the debut album from Vlautin’s new band, The Delines, featuring vocalist Amy Boone (The Damnations). 

He came to speak and read at the college where we work last year. While he was here, Vlautin spoke with us about his life as a writer and musician, the allure of the Drifter archetype, and why he is so drawn to stories of working class people trying to find themselves in the chaos and oblivion of modern America. 

“Willy Vlautin is one of the bravest novelists writing. Murderers, cheats, sadists, showy examples of the banality of evil, are easy, but it takes real courage to write a novel about ordinary good people. They don’t fit into the cynic’s little boxes — they’re way too big. The guy working two eight-hour jobs who still can’t meet the mortgage but won’t let his kids down, the hospital night nurse coping with her crazy mean father and trying to rescue a lost girl — common people, the ones who never get the breaks, the ones who need, and know, compassion. An unsentimental Steinbeck, a heartbroken Haruf, Willy Vlautin tells us who really lives now in our America, our city in ruins.”


--Ursula K. Le Guin