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. 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.