Wendy Laura Belcher

Professor, Department of Comparative Literature and Department for African American Studies.
Phone: 
609-258-1683
Email Address: 
wbelcher@princeton.edu
Office Location: 
105 East Pyne

Periods: medieval and early modern British and African literature

Languages of research interest: Gəˁəz, Amharic, French, Hausa, Anglophone

Research interests: early African literature, African language literature, African literature in English; African discourse and Western literature; postcolonial criticism 

Office Hours Fall 2019:  Mondays; please check exact times on WASE

Professor Wendy Laura Belcher is Professor of African literature with a joint appointment in the Princeton University Department of Comparative Literature and the Department for African American Studies. 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 in progress, a book titled The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an African Idea (under contract with Princeton University Press) about the circulation of Ethiopian thought in Europe from 1000 to 2000. 

Another multi-book project aims to bring attention to important medieval and early modern African women leaders. 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 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. She is now working with Kleiner to translate the fourteenth-century Ethiopian text the Kebra Nagast (Kəbrä Nägäśt, The Glory of the Kings), a retelling of the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Meanwhile, she is working on a book titled Ladder of Heaven: The Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian Literature and Art (under contract with Princeton University Press).

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 academic press with several book series. 

Prof. Belcher is interested in working with graduate students whose research interests overlap with her own, including African language literature (especially that in Gəˁəz, Amharic, Hausa).  Those interested in working on Gəˁəz literature, such as the Täˀammərä Maryam or Kəbrä Nägäśt, are especially welcome, but also welcome are those interested in studying comparative African and European studies, Anglophone African literature, early African literature, African film, African women authors, history of the African book, African manuscript cultures, African female saints, and queer African studies.

Prof. Belcher has been approved to be the principal investigator on undergraduate comparative literature projects requiring Human Subjects Research approval. 

More information about her work can be found at her website.

Person category: