PUP acquires Barbara Chase‑Riboud’s I Always Knew

Princeton University Press is honored to announce that we have acquired World English rights to I Always Knew: A Memoir, a collection of letters written by internationally renowned author and artist Barbara Chase-Riboud. The book will be co-published with the Pulitzer Foundation.

I Always Knew shares narratives of lives entwined—those of Chase-Riboud and her beloved mother Vivian Mae Chase—told through nearly four decades of letters from daughter to matriarch. Beginning in 1957 when the Philadelphia-born Chase-Riboud was a student in Paris, and spanning the years that followed, as she lived, studied, and worked in Europe, Africa, and the United States, the letters offer a window into a multi-faceted life and career that has spanned arts and letters.

Writing in the introduction, Chase-Riboud explains, “This is not autobiography, nor biography, nor memoir nor fiction but a strange hybrid mixture of disparate and even contradictory narratives out of which portraits of the two of us emerge, separate yet united and indivisible.”

Michelle Komie, publisher at Princeton University Press, says, “Barbara Chase-Riboud is an iconic artistic figure. Her pioneering life, documented in this exquisite collection, tells stories that will be captivating to all those who have the privilege of travelling alongside her through Paris, Cairo, Rome, Dakar, Istanbul, Beijing, Havana, London and beyond, in circles including people ranging from Henri Cartier Bresson, Dali, Man Ray and Alexander Calder to James Baldwin, Jaqueline Onassis, and Toni Morrison. This is the life of an extraordinary woman, beautifully documented over an equally extraordinary period of cultural and political world history.”

Trained as a visual artist, primarily as a sculptor, Chase-Riboud’s work is in the permanent collections of major museums, including the Centre Pompidou and Museum of Modern Art, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and has been the subject of numerous publications including, Barbara Chase Riboud: Sculptor (1999) and Barbara Chase-Riboud: The Malcolm X Steles (2013) and Malcolm X: Complete (2017). Her monumental fabric and bronze installations forge impactful engagements with the human figure, the American Civil Rights Movement, and her own travels across North Africa and China. She was the first American woman invited to visit China after the Revolution (1965) and the second American woman to have a personal exhibition in a major American museum—Berkeley Art Museum in 1972 (the first was Georgia O’Keefe).

In addition to her sculptural work, Chase-Riboud is an internationally recognized and award-winning poet and best-selling novelist. She is the author of three volumes of poetry, including the 1987 collection Portrait of a Nude Woman as Cleopatra, which won the Carl Sandburg Poetry Prize. In 2015 Seven Stories Press published Everytime a Knot is Undone, a God is Released, Collected and New Poems, 1974-2011. The new collections, Michelangelo’s Library Bench, Akhmatova and Modigliani and Helicopter are ready for publication. A Washington Post review of the collection noted, “The poems, like the sculpture, are a lucid reflection of their creator; tensile strength tempered with softness. Poetry, as she sees it, is a natural extension … a trip from one three dimensional world to another.”

Chase-Riboud is also the author of seven works of fiction. Her landmark novel Sally Hemings (1979) and which richly imagined the life and character of Hemings at a time when her relationship to Thomas Jefferson was still contested—brought her international acclaim and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for literary fiction. Forthcoming in early 2022 is The Great Mrs. Elias (Amistad), which centers on the life of Hannah Elias, a black female millionaire in New York at the turn of the 20th century.

I Always Knew is slated to publish in 2022. Though not an exhibition catalogue, publication of the volume will coincide with a retrospective of Chase-Riboud’s work at the Pulitzer Foundation.