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Northwest Passages: Willy Vlautin

Pete Springer/OPB

a href=”” target=”_blank”>Willy Vlautin has stories to tell. Whether in song, as frontman for the Portland band Richmond Fontaine, or in prose, his tales dredge the details of lives on the edge. He says his latest novel, Lean on Pete, is “a little more hopeful” than his first two books.

It’s still set in the world Vlautin knows and tells well: life in old-man bars and places to sleep that become home. Lean on Pete is the story of Charley Thompson, a 15 year old boy on his own, and the aged racehorse he falls in love with and tries to save.

Boy, that sounds maudlin! It’s not! Vlautin’s storytelling has won him comparisons to his inspiration, Raymond Carver, and praise for his straighforward empathy toward people who life has beaten up and broken down.

Lean on Pete is, in some ways, a love song to Portland’s broken down racetrack, Portland Meadows, and to Vlautin’s Aunt Margie. (She is partly responsible for the fact that the book leaves Charley in a more-hopeful-than-usual place.)

Vlautin is on stage a lot now, but he says he was so shy as a kid he cut deals with teachers so they wouldn’t call on him. And although he loved to read, he did badly enough in school that

I assumed I couldn’t be a writer, but I thought everybody could be in a band.

Now he does both. To hear his music, check out this session from OPB Music last summer. And post your questions here for Willy Vlautin about his life, music, stories, or the people who grab his heart.

Thanks to listener Kendra Mingo, writer Kevin Sampsell, Debra Bogart of the Eugene Public Library, and Robin Beerbower with the Salem Public Library for suggesting Willy Vlautin for our Northwest Passages series. Keep the suggestions coming - just go to our suggest-a-show page.

Willy Vlautin will be reading at Powell’s on W. Burnside in Portland April 27. His band, Richmond Fontaine, will be playing at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland April 29.

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