Alastair Reid (Whithorn, 22 March 1926 – Manhattan, 21 September 2014) was a Scottish poet and a scholar of South American literature. He was known for his lighthearted style of poems and for his translations of South American poets Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. Although he was known for translations, his own poems had gained notice during his lifetime. He had lived in Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Morocco, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and in the United States. During the editorship of William Shawn he wrote for The New Yorker magazine, but his main income was from teaching.
Reid was born at Whithorn in Galloway, Scotland, the son of a clergyman. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Navy decoding ciphers. After the war he studied Classics at the University of St Andrews and briefly taught Classics at Sarah Lawrence College, New York. In the mid-1950s he travelled to Mallorca, spending some time working as the secretary of Robert Graves.
In 1984, in an interview for the Wall Street Journal, Reid admitted fabricating many details of his reporting from Spain for the New Yorker, including inventing places and ascribing statements to composite characters. He said these inventions were an attempt to present "a larger truth, of which facts form a part." In his book, Whereabouts, Reid counters this article with the following:
These pieces were at the center of a curious storm that blew up in the American press during June of 1984. A year or so before, I had addressed a seminar at Yale University on the wavering line between fact and fiction, using examples from various writers, Borges among them, and from my own work. A student from the seminar went on to become a reporter and published a piece in the Wall Street Journal that charged me with having made a practice of distorting facts, quoting the cases I had cited in the seminar. Many newspaper editorials took up the story as though it were fact, and used it to wag pious fingers at the New Yorker. A number of columnists reproved me for writing about an "imaginary" Spanish village, a charge that would have delighted the flesh-and-blood inhabitants.... Not a single one of my critics, as far as I could judge, had gone back to read the pieces in question.
He published more than forty books of poems, translations, and travel writing, including Ounce Dice Trice, a book of word-play and literary nonsense for children (illustrated by Ben Shahn), and two selections from his works: Outside In: Selected Prose and Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations (both 2008).
- Obituary in The Daily Telegraph, Wed. Oct. 8, 2014
- Maureen Dowd (19 June 1984). "A WRITER FOR THE NEW YORKER SAYS HE CREATED COMPOSITES IN REPORTS". The New York Times.
- "Ounce Dice Trice". New York Review Books. Archived from the original on 26 October 2015. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
- "About Alastair Reid". The Poetry Archive. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- Cid, Ana (15 October 2014). "Alastair Reid, el poeta "Patapelá" que vivió 20 años en Samaná" (in Spanish). Acento. Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- McGrath, Charles (24 September 2014). "Postscript: Alastair Reid (1926-2014)". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
- "Alastair Reid in the New Yorker". The New Yorker.
- Campbell, James (26 September 2014). "Alastair Reid obituary". The Guardian.
- Weber, Bruce (25 September 2014). "Alastair Reid, a Restless Poet and Essayist, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2014.
The cause was a gastric bleed he suffered during treatment for pneumonia, said his wife, Leslie Clark. Described as a man with “itchy feet,” Mr. Reid lived, often not for very long, in a variety of places — Switzerland, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic and England among them — before settling in Greenwich Village for the last decades of his life. He was restless as a man of letters as well.