Wendy L. Belcher

Position
Professor
Role
Department of African American Studies & Department of Comparative Literature
Office
105 East Pyne Building

On Sabbatical Fall 2021- Spring 2022

Degrees

PhD in English Literature, UCLA; MA in African Studies, UCLA; MA in Urban Planning; BA in English Literature, Mount Holyoke College

Bio/Description

Professor Wendy Laura Belcher is Professor of African literature with a joint appointment in the Princeton University Department for African American Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature. Working at the intersection of diaspora, postcolonial, medieval, and early modern studies, she has a special interest in the literatures of Ethiopia and Ghana and is working to bring attention to early African literature (written between 1300 and 1900), particularly that in African languages, through her research and translation.

One multi-book comparative project aims to demonstrate how African thought has animated British and European canonical literature. This includes the widely reviewed 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 a book in progress titled The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an African Idea, about the medieval African retelling of the story of Solomon and Sheba. She traces the circulation of this idea in medieval European art and literature through to Rider Haggard’s novels, the Indiana Jones films, and the Rastafari. 

Another multi-book project aims to bring attention to the existence and value of early written African language. 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; concise edition, 2018), 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 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 and Kleiner have also translated excerpts from the life of Krestos Samra, a fifteenth-century Ethiopian woman saint, and an Ethiopian Marian miracle tale. She is now working with Kleiner to translate the medieval source text for The Black Queen of Sheba, titled the Kebra Nagast (Kəbrä Nägäśt, The Glory of the Kings), to be one of the first African texts in the Penguin Classics series. In addition, she is working with Ralph Lee and Mehari Worku to translate two seventeenth-century Ethiopic texts of early African philosophy, titled the Hatata

For this second multi-book project, she has also written books of original research, including her book in progress, an interdisciplinary analysis of a particular body of Gəˁəz literature and art, titled Ladder of Heaven: The Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian Literature and Art (under contract with Princeton University Press). It consists of interpreting the original Ethiopian miracle stories about the Virgin Mary, written from the 1300s into the 1900s. This book is based on her PEMM digital humanities project establishing the number, themes, dating, and origin of over 700 stories, supported by funding from Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities, the Council of the Humanities, and the departments of African American Studies and Comparative Literature.

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 100 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 ethnic studies academic press with several book series.

Selected Publications

Research Books

  • Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012. 
  • Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Second Edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. June 2019. 

Scholarly Editions And Translations

  • The Life of Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century Biography of an African Woman (Concise Edition) (with Michael Kleiner). Princeton: Princeton University Press, September 2018. 160 pages. (An abridged version for students).
  • The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman (with Michael Kleiner). Princeton: Princeton University Press, October 2015. 525 pages. 64 color plates. 
  • The Jesuits in Ethiopia (1609–1641): Latin Letters in Translation (translated by Jessica Wright and Leon Grek, introduced by Leonardo Cohen, edited by Wendy Laura Belcher). Äthiopistische Forschungen series. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag. November 2017. 288 pages. 

Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

  • “Are We Global Yet? Africa and the Future of Early Modern Studies.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 33, no.3 (spring 2021): 413-46.
  • “Mary Saves the Man-Eater: Value in the Medieval Ethiopian Marian Miracle Tale of the Cannibal of Qəmər,” Global Medievalism issue, Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures 8, no. 1 (spring 2019): 29-49.
  • “Same-Sex Intimacies in the Early African Text Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672): Queer Reading an Ethiopian Woman Saint.” Special issue: Queer Valences in African Literatures and Film. Research in African Literatures 47, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 20–45.
  • “The Melancholy Translator: Sirak Ḫəruy’s Amharic Translation of Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas. With Bekure Herouy. Age of Johnson: A Scholarly Journal 23 (2015): 160–203. 
  • “Sisters Debating the Jesuits: The Role of African Women in Defeating Portuguese Proto-Colonialism in Seventeenth-Century Abyssinia.” Northeast African Studies 13, no. 1 (spring 2013): 121–166.
  • “From Sheba They Come: Medieval Ethiopian Myth, U.S. Newspapers, and Modern American Narrative.” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters. 33, no. 2 (spring 2010): 239–257.
  • “Consuming Subjects: Theorizing New Models of Agency for Literary Criticism in African Studies.” Comparative Literature Studies 46, no. 2 (spring 2009): 213–232. 
  • “Origin of the Name Rasselas.” Notes and Queries 56, no. 2 (June 2009): 253–255.
  • “Reflections on Ten Years of Teaching Writing for Publication to Graduate Students and Junior Faculty.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 40, no. 2 (January 2009): 184–199. Cited over 43 times.
  • “Indirect Resistance: Rhetorical Strategies for Evading Power in Colonial French West African Novels by Camara Laye, Ferdinand Oyono, and Sembene Ousmane.” LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory 18, no. 1 (spring 2007): 65–87.
  • “Conjuring the Colonizer: Alternative Readings of Magic Realism in Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues.” American Indian Studies and Culture Journal 31, no. 2 (June 2007): 25–39. Reprinted in Jeffrey Hunter, ed., Contemporary Literary Criticism, v. 260 Gale Publishing, 2009. 
  • “After the Freedom: Post-War Cultural Production and National Identity in Eritrea.” Third Text: Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture 50 (spring 2000): 87–98.

Peer-reviewed Chapters

  • “The Life and Visions of Krəstos Śämra, a Fifteenth-Century Ethiopian Woman Saint.” In African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries, ed. Dana Robert. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2018: 80–95.
  • “African Rewritings of the Jewish and Islamic Solomonic Tradition: The Triumph of the Queen of Sheba in the Ethiopian Fourteenth-Century Text Kəbrä Nägäśt.” In Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an as Literary Works, ed. Roberta Sabbath. Boston/Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2009: 441–459.

Short Translations

  • Portions of Gädlä Krəstos Śämra, translated by Michael Kleiner and Wendy Laura Belcher. In African Christian Biography: Narratives, Beliefs, and Boundaries, ed. Dana Robert. Pietermaritzburg, South Africa: Cluster Publications, 2018, 95–101.
  • Selections from and introduction to the Kebra Nagast, translated by Michael Kleiner and Wendy Laura Belcher, in The Norton Anthology of World Literature, 4th ed. New York: Norton. June 2018.
  • “The Cannibal of Qəmər,” translated by Michael Kleiner and Wendy Laura Belcher. Global Medievalism issue, Digital Philology. Spring 2019.