Wendy Laura Belcher

Associate Professor
Department of Comparative Literature & Department of African American Studies
Ph.D, Comparative Literature
105 East Pyne Building
office phone:
(609) 258-1683
Wendy Laura Belcher

Professor Wendy Laura Belcher is an associate professor of African literature with a joint appointment in the Princeton University Department of Comparative Literature and the Department of African American Studies.

Working at the intersection of diaspora, postcolonial, and eighteenth-century studies, she has a multi-book comparative project demonstrating how African thought has animated British, European, and American canonical literature. This includes the widely reviewed book that was a finalist for the Bethwell A. Ogot Award for best book on East Africa: Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author (Oxford, May 2012), which theorizes the discursive possession of English authors and texts. The next part of the project is in progress, a book titled The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an African Idea, about the circulation of Ethiopian thought in Europe from 1000 to 2000.

She also works to bring attention to early African literature (written between 1300 and 1900), particularly that in African languages, through her research and translation. She has another book in progress, Ladder of Heaven: The Ethiopian Literature of the Miracles of the Virgin Mary. For instance, she is the co-translator with Michael Kleiner of perhaps the first book-length biography of an African woman, originally written in Gəˁəz (classical Ethiopic), The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman (Princeton University Press 2015), for which she received the Fulbright US Scholars Award. She and Kleiner also received the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women (SSEMW) award for the best Scholarly Edition in Translation of 2015. Her article interpreting one aspect of the book is “Same-Sex Intimacies in the Early African Text Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672): Queer Reading an Ethiopian Woman Saint.”

She is now translating with Kleiner perhaps the most important medieval African text ever written, in a book titled The Glory of the Monarchs Sheba and Solomon: A Translation of the Medieval Ethiopian Text of the Kebra Nagast. She also edited the forthcoming, The Jesuits in Ethiopia (1609-1641): Latin Letters in Translation, translated by Jessica Wright and Leon Grek and introduced by Leonardo Cohen, Äthiopistische Forschungen series. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowtiz Verlag. Many years she has hosted a seminar on African language literature at the American Comparative Literature Association conference.

These scholarly interests emerge from her life experiences growing up in East and West Africa, where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. Her teaching focuses on how non-Western literature has participated in a global traffic in invention, pairing texts across national and continental boundaries in order to debunk stereotypes of Africans as peoples without history, texts, or influence until the 1950s.

Previous books included the best-seller Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, which has helped thousands to publish their important work and been cited in over 140 publications, and the award-winning Honey from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton, 1988). Before becoming a professor, she worked for eleven years as the director of a small academic press with several book series.


AAS 239 / COM 239 / AFS 239
Introduction to African Literature and Film

African literature and films have been a vital (but often unacknowledged) stream in and stimulant to the global traffic in invention. Nigerian literature is one of the great literatures of the 20th century. Ethiopian literature is one of the oldest in the world. South Africans have won more Nobel Prizes for Literature in the past forty years than authors from any other country. Senegalese films include some of the finest films ever made. In this course, we will study the richness and diversity of foundational African texts (some in translation), while foregrounding questions of aesthetics, style, humor, and epistemology.

AAS 274 / COM 274
Growing Up Global: Novels and Memoirs of Transnational Childhoods

What if the real answer to the question “Where are you from?” or “Where did you grow up?” is so complicated that you tend to give a convenient rather than honest answer? This course will explore narratives of youthful cultural and linguistic adaptation by those who have spent their childhood crossing national boundaries. Among the topics of discussion are how the narrators construct meaningful identities and produce a sense of belonging or alienation through narrative.

AAS 338 / COM 347 / AFS 338
African Vampires and Other Political Phantasms

In this class, we will explore literature and films about African vampires, witches, zombies, mermaids, and ghosts as a way of thinking about how Africa is constructed in the global imagination as well as how African and African diasporic artists use magic to analyze the dynamics of power. In this interdisciplinary anthropology, political science, literature and history course, students will be introduced to several bodies of literature (twentieth-century African American and Francophone fiction; twenty-first century African science fiction; West African popular film); as well as the latest in theorizing about magic, culture, and the state.

AAS 342 / COM 394 / AFS 342
Sisters’ Voices: African Women Writers

In this class, we study the richness and diversity of poetry, novels, and memoirs written by African women. The course expands students’ understanding of the long history of women’s writing across Africa and a range of languages. It focuses on their achievements while foregrounding questions of aesthetics and style. As an antidote to misconceptions of African women as silent, students analyze African women’s self-representations and how they theorize social relations within and across ethnic groups, generations, classes, and genders. The course increase students’ ability to think, speak, and write critically about gender.

AAS 442 / AFS 442 / COM 425
African Radical Thought and Revolutionary Youth Culture

African thought continues to be marginalized, even though radical black intellectuals have shaped a number of social movements and global intellectual history. African youths are innovating new models that are revolutionizing the sciences, law, social and visual media, fashion, etc. In this class, we read classics of African thought and study contemporary African youth culture together to theorize what is happening in Africa today. This includes reading such African theorists as Frantz Fanon, V. Y. Mudimbe, and Achille Mbembe, and researching innovations in contemporary African urban popular culture.

AAS 522 / COM 522 / ENG 504
Reading Race and Gender as Publishing Praxis

In this interdisciplinary class, students of race and gender will read deeply and broadly in academic journals as a way of learning the debates in their fields and placing their scholarship in relationship to them. Students will report each week on the trends in the last five years of any journal of their choice, writing up the articles’ arguments and debates, while also revising a paper in relationship to those debates and preparing it for publication. This course enables students to leap forward in their scholarly writing through a better understanding of their fields and the significance of their work to them.