Professor Wendy Laura Belcher Awarded Paul Hair Prize for Best Translation

Written by
Nov. 27, 2017

The Paul Hair Prize is presented in odd-numbered years to recognize the best critical edition or translation into English of primary source materials on Africa published during the preceding two years. The award is administered by the Association for the Preservation and Publication of African Historical Sources (APPAHS). It is announced at the African Studies Association Annual Meeting. The 2017 prize has been awarded to The Life Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, edited and translated by Wendy Laura Bulcher and Michael Kleiner. Professor Belcher is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and African American Studies at Princeton University. Her co-translator is the historian Michael Kleiner.

This year’s ceremony took place November 18, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.

Upon receiving the award, Professor Wendy Laura Belcher stated, “Almost three hundred and fifty years ago, a young monk was urged by his community to write the story of their extraordinary founder. He protested, saying he was too inexperienced to write a whole book, a feeling many of us know. But he did do it because he wanted word of this amazing woman to ‘spread around the world.’ I’m happy to have been a little part of making his dream come true.”

The book is the first English translation of the earliest known book-length biography of an African woman. It was written by Ethiopians for Ethiopians in an Ethiopian language in 1672 about a seventeenth-century Ethiopian saint named Walatta Petros. She was an Ethiopian religious leader who lived from 1592 to 1642 and lead a nonviolent struggle against the Jesuits’ mission to convert Ethiopian Christians to Roman Catholicism.

Eligible for consideration are editions of primary source materials dealing with the history, literature, and other aspects of the cultures of Africa, whether in African or European languages, whether from oral or written traditions, and whether the text is published for the first time or in a new edition. Books, digital resources and databases that meet these criteria are all eligible for consideration. Evaluation for the Paul Hair Text Prize is based on the importance of the text, the presentation of the text and the critical apparatus, and the utility of the work as a whole for scholars and teachers of Africa. Works edited by a single individual or jointly edited by more than one author are eligible for consideration. Anthologies with separate contributions by different authors, children’s books, and straightforward texts are not eligible. The minimum length is 10,000 words, excluding the apparatus. 

In 2005, David Henige provided an initial investment to permit a modest cash award to accompany the prize. The cash prize amount is $300. In the event that there are co-winners for an award/prize that carries a cash payment, the payment will be equally divided amongst the co-winners. The ASA Board expressed support for creating a prize for editing primary texts relating to Africa at its meeting of November 1990. The Board approved the award following the presentation of a report on processes for selecting potential winners, and it was presented for the first time in 1993.

The Paul Hair Prize Committee consists of three scholars identified by the Board.

History of Awards
  • 2017: Galawdewos, The Life Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman, edited and translated by Wendy Laura Bulcher and Michael Kleiner (Princeton University Press, 2015)
  • 2015: Paul Hair Prize Committee decided none of the nominated texts were of sufficient quality for an award
  • 2013: Karin Barber, Print Culture and the First Yoruba Novel: I.B. Thomas’s ‘Life Story of Me, Segilola’ and Other Texts (Brill Publishers, 2012)
  • 2011: Malyn Newitt, Treatise on the Rivers of Cuama (Tratado dos Rios de Cuama) by Antonio da Conceicao (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)
  • 2009: Prize not awarded
  • 2007: Mohamed Kassim and Alessandra Vianello, Servants of the Sharia: The Civil Register of the Qadi’s Court of Brava 1893-1900 2 Vols.: African Sources for African History 6.1-2 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006)
  • 2005: P.F. de Moraes Farias, Arabic Medieval Inscriptions from the Republic of Mali: Epigraphy, Chronicales and Songhay-Tuareg History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • 2003: C. de B. Webb (the late) and J.B. Wright, The James Stuart Archive, Volume 5 (University Of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2001)
  • 2001: John Hunwick (ed. & trans), Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sa’di’s Ta’rikh al-sudan down to 1613 and other Contemporary Documents, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1999)
  • 1999: Jean Boyd and Beverly B. Mack (eds.), Collected Works of Nana Asma’u, Daughter of Usman Dan Fodio, (Michigan State University Press, 1997)
  • 1997: James H. Vaughan and Anthony H.M. Kirk-Greene (edited & introduced by), The Diary of Hamman Yaji: Chronicle of a West African Muslim Ruler, (Bloomington and Indianapolis Indiana University Press, 1995)
  • 1995: Percy Coriat, Governing the Nuer: Documents in Nuer History and Ethnography, 1922-1931, Douglas H. Johnson (ed.), (Oxford: JASO, 1993)
  • 1993: Paul Hair, Adam Jones, Robin Law (eds. & annotators), Jean Barbot, Guinea: The Writings of Jean Barbot on West Africa, 1678-1712, ( Hakluyt Society)