I Always Knew: A Memoir | The Extraordinary Life Story Of Barbara Chase-Riboud

The extraordinary life story of the celebrated artist and writer, as told through four decades of intimate letters to her beloved mother.

by GRIOT - Published on 16/02/2023
Barbara Chase Riboud in Rome, during her fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, 1957. COURTESY Princeton University Press

Barbara Chase-Riboud has led a remarkable life. After graduating from Yale’s School of Design and Architecture, she moved to Europe and spent decades traveling the world and living at the center of artistic, literary, and political circles. She became a renowned artist whose work is now in museum collections around the world. Later, she also became an award-winning poet and bestselling novelist. And along the way, she met many luminaries—from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Salvador Dalí, Alexander Calder, James Baldwin, and Mao Zedong to Toni Morrison, Pierre Cardin, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Josephine Baker.

Barbara Chase-Riboud at her atelier in La Chenillère, France 1969. COURTESY Princeton University Press

I Always Knew is an intimate and vivid portrait of Chase-Riboud’s life as told through the letters she wrote to her mother, Vivian Mae, between 1957 and 1991. In candid detail, Chase-Riboud tells her mother about her life in Europe, her work as an artist, her romances, and her journeys around the world, from Western and Eastern Europe to the Middle East, Africa, the Soviet Union, China, and Mongolia.

“The book is made up of letters to my mom that I sent from Europe. I didn’t even know I was writing. I was just sending love, gossip, recording what I was feeling, doing and seeing. I didn’t save any of her cards, but if you read my letters, you can imagine what she said. It’s a very funny one-sided conversation,” she said in a recent interview.

Barbara Chase-Riboud and her mother, Vivian Mae, 1979. COURTESY Princeton University Press

By turns brilliant and naïve, passionate and tender, poignant and funny, these letters show Chase-Riboud in the process of becoming who she is and who she might become. But what emerges most of all is the powerful story of a unique and remarkable relationship between a talented, ambitious, and courageous daughter and her adored mother.

I Always Knew: A Memoir by Barbara Chase-Riboud (2022) is co-published by The Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Princeton University Press and is available online and at independent booksellers.

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