About

About Wendy Laura Belcher

Wendy Laura Belcher is professor of comparative early modern African and European literatures, with a joint appointment in the Princeton University departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies.

(If you need an introduction bio, go to the end of this page.)

Her research has two related aims: proving the long history of written thought in Africa and the influence of that thought. These scholarly interests emerge from Professor Belcher’s life experiences growing up in East and West Africa (see the Childhood Photo Gallery), where she became fascinated with the richness of Ghanaian and Ethiopian intellectual traditions. She has a special interest in the literatures of Ethiopia, Ghana, and Britain and so the first of two books in her comparative project demonstrating African influence is 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 that European canonical texts are sites of cultural heterogeneity constructed through the mediated agency of their famous authors. She argues that these authors, Johnson exemplary among them, produce “energumens” (texts through which others speak) due to “discursive possession” by the other.

The second book in this project, still in progress, is 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 (perhaps even Parzival) through to Rider Haggard’s novels, the Indiana Jones films, and the Rastafari. 

For her other aim of establishing the existence and value of early written African language, her interdisciplinary scholarship on texts in East African languages (such as Gəˁəz [classical Ethiopic]) and West African languages (such as Hausa) is participating in the creation of a new field, “early African literature.” For it, she has co‐translated with Dr. Michael Kleiner several such texts. One is perhaps the first book-length African biography of an African woman, originally written in Gəˁəz (classical Ethiopic) in 1672 by an Ethiopian community, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman (Princeton University Press 2015). It is based on fieldwork she conducted in Ethiopia on the Fulbright US Scholars Award. For this book, she and Kleiner 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 is also co‐translating, with Kleiner, the source text for The Black Queen of Sheba, titled the Kəbrä Nägäśt, to be one of the first African texts in the Penguin Classics series.  

For this aim, 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 reading of the original Ethiopian miracle stories about the Virgin Mary, written from the 1300s into the 1900s. This book is based on her digital humanities project establishing the number, themes, dating, and origin of almost 700 stories, supported by four years of funding from Princeton’s Center for Digital Humanities.

Thus, Belcher will complete books on three of the most important women in Ethiopian history: the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Sheba, and the Ethiopian saint and protocolonial resister Wälättä P̣eṭros.

Previous books include the best-seller Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (2nd ed, 2019) which has helped thousands to publish their important work and been cited in over 270 publications, and a memoir titled Honey from the Lion: An African Journey (Dutton, 1988), for which she won the Washington State Governors Writers Award and a PEN Society Martha Albrand Finalist (awarded for first book of nonfiction; judged by Annie Dillard and Allen Ginsberg). She has also published articles on African, African American, Chicano, and American Indian literature in Callaloo; Comparative Literature Studies; Third Text; Northeast African Studies; Notes and Queries; Journal of Scholarly Publishing; LIT;  and American Indian Studies and Culture Journal.

Before becoming a professor, Prof. Belcher worked as an editor. She spent eleven years as the manager of a small academic press with a peer-reviewed journal and several book series, the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, one of the most active presses in the University of California system. She also spent three years as the senior editor of the UCLA African Bibliography Project, two years as an assistant editor with an educational publisher subcontractor in Washington DC, and some time as a freelance academic editor for Oxford University Press, Routledge, University of California Press, Ohio University Press, Harcourt Brace, the National Museum of African Art, and various UCLA departments.​

She also worked as a freelance journalist preparing articles, reports, radio scripts, and multi-image scripts for such media outlets as BBC Africa News, Pacifica Network News, Salon.com, The Seattle Times, Ethiopian Tribune, Ethiopian Review, LA Weekly, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Index on Censorship, African News Online, Freedom Forum, Frontlines, CSW Newsletter, CSRC Newsletter, Flourish, Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Mount Holyoke News, Practical Supervision, and such organizations as the National Museum of African Art, United States Agency of International Development, Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Jubilee Ministries, Potter’s House Press, Washington Project for the Arts, United States Information Service, Seattle Central Community College Institute of English, PEN Center USA West, the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission, UCLA Graduate Division, UCLA African Studies Center, UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, Mount Holyoke College, and the Center for the Strategic Initiatives of Women.

Prof. Belcher’s rearch interests include African language literature (especially that in Gəˁəz, Amharic, Hausa), Anglophone African literature, Francophone 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; as well as race and gender in eighteenth-century English literature, comparative African and European studies, postcolonial literature,  post-war British drama, modern lyric poetry, Chicana/o literature, African American literature, comparative hagiographies, gender and sexuality, memoir, indirection and censorship, travel literature, manuscript studies, prison literature, women’s intellectual autobiography, and supernatural monsters.​

Prof. Belcher was awarded her doctorate in English literature (2008), her master’s in urban planning (1993), and her masters’ in African studies (1991) from the University of California at Los Angeles. Her bachelor’s in English literature (1984) is from Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. She went to high school in Seattle, Washington, at Nathan Hale High School. Before that, she attended Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana, and the International School in Gondar, Ethiopia.

An early adopter, Prof. Belcher first launched her web page in early 1999, which was hosted at www.sscnet.ucla.edu/csrc/belcher. She then created this eponymous web site, www.wendybelcher.com, in 2003, making it one of the early Web 1.0 era websites.

More Information

  • If you are interested in following her on Twitter, her handle is @wendylbelcher
  • If you are interested in emailing her, her email is wbelcher@ucla.edu.
  • If you are interested in reading some of Prof. Belcher’s scholarly research, you can go to her Academia site or ResearchGate site where she has posted many of her articles and portions of her books.
  • If you are interested in watching Prof. Belcher talk in general about her research on African literature, present on one aspect of the book about Walatta Petros, or show images from monasteries on Lake Tana, you can go to Videos and Slideshows.
  • If you are interested in talking with Prof. Belcher and have a Princeton ID, you can sign up for Writing Walks and Talks with her.
  • If you are interested in buying some of Prof Belcher’s books, you can go to her Amazon Profile.
  • If you are interested in learning about citations of Prof. Belcher’s scholarly research, you can go to her Google Scholar Profile.
  • If you need to introduce her for a research talk or panel, and don’t want to have to cut all of the above down, here is a short research bio to read:
    • WENDY LAURA BELCHER is professor of African literature in Princeton University’s departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies. She is working to bring attention to early African literature and how African thought has shaped global history. She is the author of Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson: Ethiopian Thought in the Making of an English Author (Oxford, 2012), and the translation with Michael Kleiner of The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros: A Seventeenth-Century African Biography of an Ethiopian Woman (Princeton, 2015), perhaps the first African biography of an African woman. Her books in progress are Ladder of Heaven: The Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian Literature and Art and The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an African Idea. She is also principal investigator on the Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary project and works on translations with others under her Early African Literature project. 
  • If you need to introduce her for a writing or publications talk or panel, and don’t want to have to cut all of the above down, here is a short writing for publication bio to read:
    • ​WENDY LAURA BELCHER is professor of African literature in Princeton University’s departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies. She worked as a freelance copyeditor for many years, then served for eleven years as the managing editor of a peer-reviewed journal in ethnic studies at UCLA, and has personally taught hundreds of graduate students and faculty about writing for publication. Her best-seller Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success (University of Chicago Press 2019) has helped thousands to publish their important work and has been cited in over 300 publications on writing. Her research books include Abyssinia’s Samuel Johnson, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros, and her books in progress are Ladder of Heaven: The Miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ethiopian Literature and Art and The Black Queen of Sheba: A Global History of an African Idea.