[AAS21 Podcast] Episode #15: The Influence of Ancient Ethiopia

Tuesday, Mar 12, 2019
 

In this episode, Eddie Glaude sits down with Professor Wendy Belcher to discuss her recent book. Prof. Belcher reveals her connection to Ethiopia, and how her life experiences of growing up white in Africa seep through her perspective and understanding. Professor Belcher explains how her curiosity pushed her to research, archive, and translation ancient Ethiopian writing; becoming the foundation of her recent book, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman.

 


 

Podcast Transcript:

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Eddie Glaude: Hi, I'm Eddie Glaude. I'm the chair of the  Department of African-American Studies here at Princeton University and welcome to the AAA's 21 podcast. We're delighted to have with us today, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher. She's associate professor of Medieval Early Modern and Modern African-American Literature uh, in the Departments of African-American Studies and Comparative Literature.  Uh, she works at the intersection of Early Modern and Postcolonial Studies, that with a special interest in the literatures of Ethiopia, Ghana and Britain. She's the author of Abyssinian's Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author and the co-author of the Translation with Michael Kleiner of The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros, a 17th century African biography of an Ethiopian woman. Perhaps the first African biography of an African woman and for which she received the Fulbright U.S. Scholars award. Uh, both her and Kleiner also received the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Award for the Best Scholarly Edition in Translation of 2015 and the African Studies Association, Paul Hair Award for the Best Critical Edition or Translation of Primary Source Materials on Africa in 2015-2017. She's also the author of two previous books including the best seller, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success and a book that was in fact her senior thesis. It was a memoir, titled, Honey From the Lion, an African Journey for which she won the Washington State Governor's Writers Award and a PEN Society, Martha Albrand finalist. Welcome Wendy, so good to have you.

Wendy Laura Belcher: It's so wonderful to be here with you.

Eddie: It's such -- I've been looking forward to this conversation. Let's jump into, let's just just jump into your first book. I mean, it's just an extraordinary text. The Abyssinian's Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author

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and in so many ways, it's um, a combination of things. It's part history, part archive, part biography,  intellectual history, in some ways. And one might even think of it as this kind of complex interrogation of the close embarkation of questions of influence and agency and the interesting source of ways. And it's animated by a pretty straightforward claim, if I'm reading you correctly. You know, Ethiopian thought shape the work of this most English of English writers. So why don't you talk a little bit about how you came to this book and, and how it reflects your overall approach uh, to the study of Africa?

Eddie: Thank you. That was so beautifully put and articulated. You know, one of the wonderful things about talking with other people about your work is you get to hear them say, "This is what it's about." I'm like, "How wonderful." Um, well, as you know, um, I grew up in Ethiopia and Ghana and I came back to the States when I was fourteen and I found out that this place or places that I thought of as intellectually effervescent were seen as blank darkness, right? So, at the age of fourteen, I started to begin to try to say to people, "No, it's not what you think it is. Africa's not what you think it is." So when I got to graduate school, a lot of what we were reading was all about how the English were these somehow masters of all they surveyed and which they changed absolutely everyone and absolute deep down into their souls, they made them Christians. They made them drink tea. They made them wear bowler hats. Everything about them was utterly changed. And I'm like, "No, I've, I've been in Africa and what I've seen, yeah I've seen some of that but what I've really seen is kind of British people who were there, who were didn't seem very British anymore, right? They really had become kind of Ghanaians. So I thought, who, who are these English that are being presented in this text? As if they 

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themselves were utterly unchanged and everyone else was totally changed. So I began to say, "Well, what if we thought it the other way around instead of always looking about at the English as conquerors which, of course, has to be first and foremost, we tried to think about how Africans and other people around the world, in fact, encountered the English in ways that aren't talked about. And that the British were themselves changed in ways that they themselves didn't even maybe know about, right?  So I have this idea of discursive possessions.

Eddie: Yes, yeah.

Wendy: This my, my word to try and talk about an unwilled change or an unconscious changed, right? So the British go out very consciously into the world to conquer but something happens to them in that encounter that they don't acknowledge. And that a lot of us today don't acknowledge which is that, when they're on the continent, they are in a soup of thought, right?

Eddie: Uh hmm.

Wendy: The market place, uh, their encounters, uh, how the people they meet are representing themselves, there's a whole rhetorical super structure that they are encountering that I think changed them.

Eddie: So, how was Johnson changed? He's, I mean you do a reading of, of a voyage to Abyssinia which is a translation of a translate. He's translated so it's a translation of a translate. So give me a sense of, of how you approached kind of reading the traces of the transformation in Johnson by way of this encounter?

Wendy: Yeah, you know in a way, rhetorically, he wouldn't have been the best choice --

Eddie: Right.

Wendy: --  because he'd never went Africa.

Eddie: Right.

Wendy: He didn't have any African friends. He read no African languages, right? It's like he's in an immense distance but then in the end it was really happy because I'm like, "No, if I can prove it with him then I can really prove it in any number of circumstances. So the first thing that Johnson ever did in his career was to translate this brawl of a text, right? It's a translation of a translation of a translation

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and larded through everyone's in there and Johnson translated it at a time of um, you could say mental instability or you might say mental openness where you know he probably was a little bit bipolar. Uh, he wasn't able to get out of his bed. People like, "Wow, they had to threaten him and say that the, the publisher was gonna lose his job if he didn't complete it." They did all of these things. So, in this moment of kind of mental crisis, he translated out loud this uh, two amanuensis, this five hundred page text and I think there's something about him translating about loud, a kind of speaking in tongues, right, where this text is literally kind of taking him over and his words are coming out in ways that um, you know, willed, unwilled. Um, and that the translation that he produces is so not a  translation, right? Like all sort of parts are dropped out. So anything where the Jesuits, right, the Jesuits are writing about their opponents, Ethiopians and there's many negative things. Everything negative about the Ethiopians is not there. He strips it all out. Anytime that the Jesuits had kind of a negative term like they talked about the Ethiopians as the heretics, he would always say, the people who believed in the faith of their fathers, right? So the translation is that every moment torqued against the Jesuits, right? He takes their text and uses it as uh, kind of a weapon uh, against them. So it was in the process of doing that,  that I think he began to be interested and he read and he thought a lot about how to -- what were the Ethiopians practices uh, because they were Christians. And he was a well-read Christian and he knew that basically the Ethiopians were in a way the first Christians and that they were closest in their practices to the early church. So in the 1800's they believe they were, they weren't evolutionists, right? They believed that we were fallen. Therefore, whatever was closest to the original was primitive in a good way, right? 

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Prime, it was near the prime, so therefore that the what the Ethiopian church did had to be by definition better um, then all sorts of things changed about him. For instance um, he did a kind of fasting. He never wrote about it but he does a kind of fasting with people like, "Well, it's not really British. I mean not really Protestants, not really Catholic. Uh, in fact, it's Ethiopian. He didn't eat animal products on certain days. So there's certain things that I think in terms of his faith actually influenced him. 

Eddie: In terms of the method of the book, it's so eclectic, right? It's, it's a reflection of you in so many ways and I'm particularly interested in the way in which you ins -- one could say had to kind of piece together an archive, right?

Wendy: Uh hmm.

Eddie: So how, how did you -- and now, I'm now I'm taking you all the way back to that look but I think is really important to kind of get a sense of the way in which you read the nature, the contours of your intellectual project. How did you approach the archive or the archive that was there and the archive that you had to in fact, constitute?

Wendy: Well, a scholar, uh, one of the 18th century British scholars had done a, a book, a whole book, comparing Johnson's translation with the uh, friends that he had been working from. And that was a huge, I mean in a way he had done a huge amount of work for me. And I actually emailed him and said, "I couldn't have written this book without you having in a way created this archive with all these little differences, right, that I could then study." And he wrote me back this really moving email. He said, "I have to tell you that I honestly believe that not one other person ever read that book. I spent so many years on it and to get this email from you saying how valuable it turned you, I can't even tell you how much it, it means to me, you know?" 

Eddie: That's beautiful.

Wendy: And I was like, okay, so we should always thank our, in our interlocutor and the people who enable us to do this work. But I would say the other way around. In fact, that it was through Johnson that I came to the Ethiopian archive, right? So I was in graduate school. I myself didn't know anything about literature in Africa before Chinua Achebe's

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1958 masterpiece Things Fall Apart. I also thought with everyone else, everything before is Blank Darkness. But then I was in graduate school and I was taking this 18th century classes and that's where I learned about Equiano.

Eddie: Right. Right.

Wendy: And I was like, "Okay, if there's an Equiano, aren't there others? Can't there be others? And somebody was like, "Well, I know, I grew up with those monasteries. Everyone always said it's all translation. It's all only in the Bible in there. Well, no, they're totally wrong. Ethiopian archive is filled of thousands of original indigenous text. But the assumption was, it couldn't possibly be there and so yeah, people assumed that it wasn't there. So it was through Johnson, I began to start to explore and began to see, "No, there is an  archive.

Eddie: And in the background of that particular intellectual journey, have you dropped the gem on us?

Wendy: Hmm.

Eddie: And before we start, is your -- are your life experiences, right? You wrote a memoir entitled, Honey From The Lion: An African Journey. Came out in 1988, right? And that memoir at least I would assume kind of gives an insight into the particular way in which you see, read, hear. Talk a little bit about the journey 'cause I think it's a wonderful way. So we, we began with the first book which grows out of the dissertation which is tied to graduate work which is trying in some significant way to kind of square what you've experienced with what you see, with what you don't know, with what you're coming to know. 

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: And then the work that's coming. The work that follows the first book but there's this experience that seems to be framing all of it. Talk a little about that and how you came to write a memoir and, and what made you think that you needed to put your experiences on paper?

Wendy: Yeah, you know, that was my senior thesis in college. Um, and I then developed it.

Eddie: And where did you go to school?

Eddie: I went to Mount Holyoke College. A women's college. I'm very proud to have gone there.

Eddie: I know.

Wendy: It was a wonderful place. Um, I mean it's such a fantastic question to ask. The book opens with me walking off the airplane into the airport in uh, 

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Accra and I say that uh, it's you know, you, you're on that cool airplane and then you get out into the tropical humid heat and I say it was like moving back into kind of an amniotic fluid or something this place that you know, had kind of created me. Um, but then I had this encounter with people who are there, you know? Would have been on the scam in the airport wherever it's just kind of a negative encounter and then I'm like, "Oh, no. Not at home. It's not, it's not my place. So the book kind of-- it's trying to talk about what does it mean to have grown up as a white African woman in Africa? Uh, what parts of that can I claim? What parts can I claim? Um, and it was an early attempt to try and think my way through these particular issues? And I think I'm glad I wrote that book but I think in many ways it was too personal like this later work to me as better work where it's not about how I'm encountering but um, what is this archive? And trying to show people that Africa is not what they, what they assume it is and not doing it through the lens of my own experience directly but through the, through the archive.

Eddie: Yeah, you know, I, I think it's important how to reduce our work to just simply autobiography. But the residual traces of those experiences in my view can help account for what comes into view.

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: Right. That kind of particular idiosyncratic way in which we read and sound. Our particular voice. 

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: Our, whether it's our writely[?] voice or, or --

Wendy: I think, I think all of us who write like, we write our ourselves into being, right?

Eddie: Right.

Wendy: That first book was kind of writing and trying to wrestle and every book after it, is a way of trying to create yourself.

Eddie: Now, this is, this second book, the translation with  Michael Kleiner, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros, I mean it's extraordinary. It's a beautiful book in every way. Why was it such an important book for you to do?

Wendy: You know, I mean 

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I was reading this stuff from Samuel Johnson and he kept on talking about this Ethiopian women, right? And then the Jesuits [Crosstalk]

Eddie: All those Jesuits.

Wendy: Those Jesuits, you know, they failed in Ethiopia. They  completely failed. It's, it was a crushing defeat that they're still trying to explain today, right? And a lot of people say, "Well they're culturally insensitive if they've done it differently," and you know, so on. But the Jesuits at that time, they said, "It was because of those diabolical Ethiopian women, that's why we failed.". And when I first read it I thought you know, you know, typical misogyny and then I was like, "Wait, why am I dismissing their agency? Why am I just assuming that of course, no, is it possible? And that's when I began to talk to people and people like, "Oh yeah, there was a priest, an Ethiopian priest. He said to me, "Oh yeah, there's all sorts of books about those women. You know, they're saints in the Ethiopian church for saving the church and everyone knows that the women saved the church in 1600's.

Eddie: Wow.

Wendy: I was like, "Oh my gosh, I did not know about these books and I'm like, where can I read them? It's like, "Well, none of them are in English." I was like, "Yeah, okay. Um, I think we need to translate this." So there was a long period of trying to struggle to make that happen and then I was fortunate enough to meet Michael and we began to translate. And of course that book is so deep and gorgeous and you know, alive on the page, right? It has dialogue. It has triumph. It has heartbreak. I mean it's like a novel, right. It's her, her amazing life, so.

Eddie: So it's her amazing life but you write -- I mean that introduction to the book is extensive. What is, about seventy four pages or something like that?

Wendy: Yeah, exactly.

Eddie: So I mean, so you're making an intervention at this [Crosstalk]

Wendy: Yeah, I did a lot of research.

Eddie: -- at a certain at on a number of different levels, right?

Wendy: Yeah. Yeah.

Eddie: So this is not just simply uh, a kind of literary exercise where you know, you're doing compar -- I mean something, is philology. It's a range of things that's happening in this. So talk a little about the theoretical intervention you're trying to make with the text.

Wendy: Yeah, Well, there's so many

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-- I mean it's almost impossible to say all the ways in which that book reverberates.

Eddie: Right.

Wendy: Um, you one thing I could just say is that people are starting to teach with it. And I get so many emails from faculty saying, "I've never seen students respond to a book the way that they respond to this book." And especially you know, my African-American students, they come and like I didn't know and this changes everything, right? That a book like this exists. So what else does one need to, to know but, you know it's a hagiography. People think hagiographies are useless for history. No, this is very useful for history. People think Africa is a place where women are the most depressed. No, look at these extraordinary women who are leaving their community without any male authority over them. Something you could not say about any abbeys in Europe for instance. I mean, I don't know. It's so, it's so rich; that had so many things.

Eddie: You called that hagiobiography.

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: And that how is that different from just hagiography?

Wendy: So for instance there is another book. Another hagiography in Ethiopia written, written about a different woman --

Eddie: Okay.

Wendy: And that book to me is a true hagiography. This is a woman who dies. She's killed by you know, the emperor and the Jesuits and whatnot. Um, she rises from the dead and she comes back to threaten the emperor with the relics of her own dead body. It's just magnificent, right? 

Eddie: Yes.

Wendy: It's a hagiography, right? It's not real. There's all sort of things about it that aren't real. Walatta Petros' book is, it's a biography, right? It has dates. It has historical figures. Everything maps you know, all the dates work. All the people work. It's talking about a particular period. It's talking about why did the Jesuits failed? So it is a really useful historical source.

Eddie: And like you said, the particular, the particularities of her life are just striking and your interpretation of some of the particularities of her life are striking. I mean you got it? You've generated some controversy with the book. Talk a little bit about that.

Wendy: Yes.

Eddie: I, I, I remember you showing me some of the responses on Amazon and, and, and through email. Uh, I mean you ruffle some feathers with this.

Wendy: I, I did ruffle some feathers

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 but you know in the book there was this anecdote where it says, uh, the saint says, "I was standing in the house one day and I looked out towards the gate and I saw some young nuns pressing against each other and being lustful with each other each with a female companion." This is not the sentence that I wrote. This is a sentence in the original text but this was a not acceptable to some members of the Ethiopian Orthodox church who, in my opinion had been too influenced by kind of American missionaries. Uh, and I think, I mean, it's not for me to say, but I think they forgotten that the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox church is of love and of a kind of embrace uh, a seeing they don't think about original sin and so on. So some people responded negatively and other people wrote to me and said that it meant a lot to them to know that their history included um, people who were queer.

Eddie: Yeah. That I mean, that this is, I mean it was an amazing moment in the text and it generated a lot of heat, if I remember correctly. Uh, well, of course, you know.

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: So let's, let's talk a bit about where the Petros book, the Walatta Petros book fits within the arch of your work?

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: Right, so there are other books coming?

Wendy: Yes.

Eddie: And so let's talk about where, where does it fit as a kind of transition to the next book? I mean you got The Ladder of Heaven book coming. You have other, The Black Queen of Sheba coming. So talk about this, the arch of the work.

Wendy: Yeah. So my hope for the rest of my life is to continue to do two things. One is translation and the other is this kind of scholarly books. And maybe to get them more separated out for it the Walatta Petros had everything. The whole one five hundred and fifty pages but people like, "No, maybe don't do that again. Try and uh, separate them out." So we're doing a translation of Kebra Negast which is a retelling of the story of Solomon and Sheba. This is really amazing

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uh, African, early time African project. And then I'm doing a book on The Black Queen of Sheba. So there's the translation and then there's the research book. The Ladder of Heaven is about the miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian  literature. Something again, everyone always just translations from Europe. That's not true. There's hundreds and hundreds of Ethiopian indigenous um, narratives and they're quite extraordinary. That, I'm not so much translating but I do have a digital humanities project that's ongoing now about trying to collect data about these miracles, where they started and when they were first told and all of that kind of stuff so hopefully pairing these things together.

Eddie: And then there's this kind of broad, this broad multi-book. Where I remember us talking about this, this [Crosstalk]

Wendy: Yeah all of these things together.

Eddie: Yeah.

Wendy: So there was absenous, Samuel Johnson was the first part of trying to think about the influence of African thought.  The Black Queen of Sheba is another uh, instantiation of that and it's kind of a like Johnson is the little small thing, right? Ethiopian thought in one author. The Black Queen of Sheba is something where I mean, the Indiana Jones films exists because of this book, right?

Eddie: Exactly. Exactly.

Wendy: The Rastafara exists because of this book so try on a much larger scale to say, "You don't even know how much African thought has shaped even your own experiences for everyone around, around the world.

Eddie: I've read, I've read early portions of that book and is like a wonderful who've done its story, right? It's just so,  it's gotta, it's gotta hit the ground running. It's, it's so, it's so brilliant in so many ways. So at the heart of all of these work that you're doing, of course, it's Africa, African literature. But you know, I mean it's not like it's a settled question. I mean, that's a huge place. So what is Africa register for you in your work?

Wendy: That's a great question. You know um, as I mentioned I grew up in Ethiopia and Ghana and the great thing about that is that whenever people are talking about Africa, one part of you saying, "But, yeah but that's not truly Ethiopia or that's not true of Ghana," right? That these are two places so utterly different that they make a mockery of 

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this kind of omnibus turn of, of Africa. One is mountainous and cold, the other is savanna and heat. Uh, I mean, you know, in almost every way, they're, they're utterly, utterly different. Um, and yet at the same time, they still have some things in common, right? Places of tremendous spirituality. Uh, was certain kind of rhetorical registers, ideas about power and so on and so forth. So I'm always kind of yeah, flexing between this term is nonsense and ridiculous and a-- you know, bind and no, but there is something. You have to, to talk about these things together and part of the reason why I always wanted to talk about them together is that, of course, other people are always separating them out, right? There's sub-Saharan in Africa and the rest is not Africa. And when I think about people saying that for instance Ethiopia is not really Africa or East Africa is not really Africa or North Africa is not really Africa, I think what's really happening is that people believe and assume that Africa's the place without writing. Therefore, wherever has writing cannot possibly be Africa and this is nonsense in any number of ways. But one of the real reasons is that, of course, all over Africa's had writing. It's not something that it's just to these places. There's a writing called, uh, Libyco-Berber which died out two thousand years ago in West Africa, right? All over stones and everything and I, I begin to think you know, what if I went on the assumption that every language in Africa has always been written? What would happen, you know? What would we see if I started off with something like that? And I began to do this early African anthology and then I basically had to give up because I'm like there's so much, I had, you know it's gonna be twenty volumes, right? How can we, how can we possibly put this together. I think, I think the real, the reason why people perceive it and what is the real difference between, let's say, Ethiopia and Mali and maybe other places in Africa, it's not writing, it's not history, 

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it's not book, it's not paper, it's libraries. That in Mali and Ethiopia that they had this tradition of holding books, preserving foods, copying books and so on. That's really the only difference amongst the languages and places in Africa. They've all had these this kind of writing.

Eddie: So what, what if -- would you, I mean I just [Inaudible] you were saying this and from, from, from the context to the U.S. right, it seems to me that because of a kind of American exceptionalism it would lead the gaze to a particular geographical region and on the continent. What matters is that which fed the U.S. context. So what comes into view has everything to do with how we're trying to account for this, you know, for this specificity of the New World, right? 

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: It's interesting what narrows our vision about the continent and how a variety of caricatures can blind us to the vast complexity and sophistication of the region.

Wendy: Yeah, I mean you know, uh, Mariana Candido who is our colleague in history some years ago. Um, she was in Angola and she went to the cathedral there and said you know, "Can I look at your birth records and death records?" They're like, "No, we don't have anything like that." And she's like, "Okay," and then she went to church every week for, for awhile. And then she went back to them and said, "Do you have birth or death records?" So it's like, "Oh yes." This room, this massive room. It took her months to digitized it. Her whole research since then has been based on this extraordinary work doing slavery women, owners. I mean everything because she believed that there was something there, right? So what happens if we instead kind of change our mentality about Africa and say, "Okay, it's a place that has these incredible riches. We just, we don't believe in and so we don't see it. Let's try believing and then see, what do we see then?

Eddie: So that should just gives really quick because you're not just this amazing scholar of African literature. You're not just this um, extraordinary comparative literary scholar who can move uh, between translation and, and close reading and

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 the like, you're also this, this person who has been offering advice and a pathway to, to scholars in terms of how they might imagine doing the work they do. There's this book that, I mean compared to all the other stuff we're talking about, you wonder where, how it fits. You know it's, it's published by Sage and it's entitled, Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks, a guide to academic publishing. So this is a best selling book, you know? Uh, what, having thousands, you've helped thousands of people to publish. It's like and it has been cited in over about hundred complications as you, as you know. Talk a little bit about what motivated to write and, and you continue to revise it and so talk a little bit about.

Wendy: I mean this book also came out of my own struggles with writing. Um, you know, I had published my first book uh, in my mid-twenties and then I went back to graduate school and when I arrived in graduate school, I was like, "What do these professors want? It's just insane." They, they have their, their -- there was no idea about how to meet this expectations. And we try to write this super complicated things that they would hate. I'm like but it's like what you're signing us things. It's just was impossible. So I left graduate school but I was asked to teach a writing class and it was like magazine writing and six students, six people showed up and three of them were desperate academics. I said, "Okay, you know what? I think I'm gonna start teaching a class. They would have helped me when I was in graduate school. A class on how to write for publication and by then I was the managing editor of the Peer-Reviewed Journal. So I'm like, "I'm gonna work on Peer- Reviewed Journal articles." And I didn't know a lot in the beginning. I did a lot of reading and then through my students right? Just following, they were required to submit their article to a journal and they would send me the peer reviews and I begin to say okay. And then the book kind of developed over that and in fact I taught my way back into graduate school and um, that was when I

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got my PhD after I'd taught myself about how to write a, a journal article. So it really emerges out of the laboratory of the classroom rather than my own experiences but the prompt was definitely my own struggles in graduate school.

Eddie: I mean it's a, it's a wonderful dimension of your vocation. It seems to me. You're not only, you know, training graduate students in the particular subject matter which you're an expert but you, you're also offering in this, you know, wonderfully practical ways --

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: -- skills to do what we're called to do without having, without being over burdened with all the anxiety and, and that comes with it all.

Wendy: Well, and so often mainstream graduate students get support, right? It's the students who are the radical socialists who somehow can't really find somebody to provide them with support. It's the women. It's the students of colors. The first gen, right? They were the ones who are always in my classes saying, "Nobody told me anything," right? And so, that was amazing to then see, yeah, that, that radical article, everyone cites. That person got some support to get their ideas out there. So that's the part I really feel proud about. It's not just helping people but enabling scholarship in general to become more radical through these days.

Eddie: So this is gonna be -- this is, this is a very different question about to ask you. So we've talked about your, your life experience and how in some ways, it it frames, not doesn't determine or over determine but we see the residual traces of those experiences in the way in which you came to graduate school and, and the work that you do. We've talked about you know, the extraordinary work you've produced with the um, the Samuel Johnson book with the Mother Petros book and the future work. I want you to step back because it's important I think for us in those moments to, to be able to talk to folks who are thinking about pursuing this, this career, this

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vocation. As you think back on your journey, up to now, what would you like to tell folks about how best, at least from your vantage point, to get to this space where you can do this sort of work that speaks so clearly from you that emanates so clearly from you?

Wendy: Yeah, you know there's twenty years between my first book and my second book. And I've been at Princeton for ten years and all those books have come in that time. And the common denominator of that is the Department of African-American Studies. I think if I went back, I don't know, it's so important to stay connected to what you believe in what you're passionate about. When I see students who are struggling so often their people were an adviser told them to work on this and they work on it and they can't get energy for it. So having a passion in particular, a political passion, I think it's a big help in, in writing in graduate school and producing.

Eddie: Well, I mean, I think that's wonderful advice; find your passion. 

Wendy: Yeah.

Eddie: Right? 'Cause we know there are whole bunch of ABD's out there who didn't, who choose that topic that were, that, that wasn't quite what they really wanted to do. It didn't speak to them.

Wendy: That's right.

Eddie: So how did you stick to it, though? I mean twenty years from your first book you know, to this moment, how did you, how did you stick to it?

Wendy: I am going to say the words, Felicity Nassbaum. Felicity Nassbaum is my dissertation adviser and she terrified me. Everyone should be so lucky as the have a adviser who inspires and terrifies them. So I didn't want to disappoint her and I got up every day and I wrote and by the time I had finished my dissertation, I had become a daily writer or productive writer and so on so.

Eddie: Well, what we do know as a result of that journey is that you are helping to define an extraordinary field of study. You are building an archive. You are, in some ways paving the way for a that young woman who was in the fourth grade who will come soon to Princeton who will be able to do exactly what you've made it possible to be done. 

(32:00)

And for that, we are so thankful. You're such a wonderful colleague.

Wendy: Thank you.

Wendy: Extraordinary teacher and all of those things. 

Wendy: Oh, ah, ah, I am amongst all of those as well. 

Eddie: Well, I wanna thank you for uh, for joining us, uh, for this, this discussion today and I would like to thank Professor Belcher for joining us this week. Additionally, a special thanks to Courtney Bryan for providing the music to this podcast. To the staff of the Department of African-American Studies at Princeton University, Our department manager, April Peters. Uh, my assistant and events coordinator, Diana Worthy. Our communications and media specialist, Anthony Gibbons and our technical support specialist and audio engineer Elio Leo. Remember you can find this podcast and more by visiting our website AAS dot Princeton dot ADU. Until next time.

(32:47)

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