Leslie Bow

Position title: Dorothy Draheim Professor of English; Asian American Studies

Email: lbow@wisc.edu

7179 Helen C. White Hall

Asian American Studies, Comparative Ethnic Studies, Asian American literature, literature by women of color, feminist theory, critical race studies, Cultural Studies, popular culture, race and sexuality.

Degrees and Institutions

  • PhD, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1993
  • MA, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1988
  • BA, University of California, Berkeley, 1984



Selected Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Racist Cute: Caricature, Kawaii-Style, and the Asian Thing,” Leslie Bow, American Quarterly 71.1 (March 2019). https://muse.jhu.edu/article/720785, PDF 1.
  • “Racial Abstraction and Species Difference: Anthropomorphic Animals in “Multicultural” Children’s Literature,” Leslie Bow, American Literature 91. 2 (2019): 323–356. https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-7529167, PDF 2.
  • “Asian American Women’s Literature and the Promise of Committed Art.” In Cambridge History of American Women’s Writing, ed. Dale Bauer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • “Asian Americans, Racial Latency, Southern Traces.” In Oxford Handbook to the Literature of the U.S. South, ed. Barbara Ladd and Fred Hobson, Oxford University Press.
  • “Transracial/Transgender: Analogies of Difference in Mai’s America.”  Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 35.1 (Autumn 2009).
  • “Playing in the Dark and the Ghosts in the Machine.” American Literary History 20.3 (Fall 2008).
  • “Racial Interstitiality and the Anxieties of the ‘Partly Colored’: Representations of Asians under Jim Crow, ” Journal of Asian American Studies 10.1 (February 2007).
  • “‘For Every Gesture of Loyalty, There Doesn’t Have to Be a Betrayal’: Asian American Criticism and the Politics of Locality,” In Who Can Speak?: Authority and Critical Identity, ed. Judith Roof and Robyn Wiegman, University of Illinois Press, 1995, reprinted in Feminist Communication Theory: Selections in Context, ed. Lana F. Rakow and Laura A. Wackwitz, Sage, 2004.
  • “The Gendered Subject of Human Rights: Asian American Literature as Postcolonial Intervention.” Cultural Critique (Winter 1999).
  • “Erasure and Representation: Asian American Women in the Academy.” Profession 1997.
  • Also: articles on Amy Tan, Le Ly Hayslip, Jade Snow Wong, Cherrie Moraga, and Wendy Law-Yone.

Selected Essays

  • “Adopting a Genre.” The Progressive 73.10 (Oct. 2009): 43-44.
  • “Camera-Ready.” Michigan Quarterly Review 47: 2 (Spring 2008), reprinted in Utne Reader: The Best of the Alternative Press. 149 (Sept./Oct. 2008).
  • “Meditations of the ‘Partly Colored,’” The Southern Review (Winter 2007).

Research Interests

Leslie Bow served as Director of Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin and on the editorial board of American Literature, the Executive Committee of the Modern Language Association, Division on Asian American Literature, and numerous committees of the Association for Asian American Studies, the CIC, and the UW System Institute on Race & Ethnicity. She is on the editorial board of Contemporary Women Writers and the advisory board of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers.  She is a contributor to Progressive magazine and the Progressive Media Project through which her op-ed columns appear in newspapers across the United States.

Leslie Bow website

Current Interests

I am currently working on racial fantasy in a monograph that explores the relationship between race and desire in portrayals of cultural difference.  The increasingly metaphoric depiction of social injustice produces a specific paradox: advocating for minority rights where no minorities actually appear.  Fantasy—whether in the form of CGI, fetish objects, or children’s picture books—allows for the simultaneous invocation and disavowal of race in the public sphere.  I look at the veiled saturation of racial signs in imaginary depictions of social hierarchy in order to understand the utility of fantasy in American culture in general and its implications for Asian Americans in particular.

I am currently editing the four-volume series, Asian American Feminisms, for Routledge, comprised of transnational scholarship on Asian American women’s issues across academic disciplines.

Recent Books

  • Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South cover

    2012 Honorable mention for the Book Award in Cultural Studies from the Association for Asian American Studies

    Arkansas, 1943. The Deep South during the heart of Jim Crow-era segregation. A Japanese-American person boards a bus, and immediately is faced with a dilemma. Not white. Not black. Where to sit?

    By elucidating the experience of interstitial ethnic groups such as Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans—groups that are held to be neither black nor white—Leslie Bow explores how the color line accommodated—or refused to accommodate—“other” ethnicities within a binary racial system. Analyzing pre- and post-1954 American literature, film, autobiography, government documents, ethnography, photographs, and popular culture, Bow investigates the ways in which racially “in-between” people and communities were brought to heel within the South’s prevailing cultural logic, while locating the interstitial as a site of cultural anxiety and negotiation.

    Spanning the pre- to the post- segregation eras, Partly Colored traces the compelling history of “third race” individuals in the U.S. South, and in the process forces us to contend with the multiracial panorama that constitutes American culture and history.

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  • The Scent of the Gods, by Fiona Cheong cover
    Bow (Editor), Leslie.“The Scent of the Gods, by Fiona Cheong.” 2010: n. pag. Print.

    The Scent of the Gods tells the enchanting, haunting story of a young girl’s coming of age in Singapore during the tumultuous years of its formation as a nation. Eleven-year-old Su Yen bears witness to the secretive lives of “grown-ups” in her diasporic Chinese family and to the veiled threats in Southeast Asia during the Cold War years. From a child’s limited perspective, the novel depicts the emerging awareness of sexuality in both its beauty and its consequences, especially for women. In the context of postcolonial politics, Fiona Cheong skillfully parallels the uncertainties of adolescence with the growing paranoia of a population kept on alert to communist infiltration. In luminous prose, the novel raises timely questions about safety, protection, and democracy–and what one has to give up to achieve them.

    Ideal for students and scholars of Asian American and transnational literature, postcolonial history, women’s studies, and many other interconnected disciplines, this special edition of The Scent of the Gods includes a contextualizing introduction, a chronology of historical events covered in the novel, and explanatory notes.

    Fiona Cheong is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the novel Shadow Theatre. Leslie Bow is a professor of English and Asian American studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the author of Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South.

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  • Betrayal & Other Acts of Subversion: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Asian American Women’s Literature cover
    Bow, Leslie.“.” 2001: n. pag. Print.

    Asian American women have long dealt with charges of betrayal within and beyond their communities. Images of their “disloyalty” pervade American culture, from the daughter who is branded a traitor to family for adopting American ways, to the war bride who immigrates in defiance of her countrymen, to a figure such as Yoko Ono, accused of breaking up the Beatles with her “seduction” of John Lennon. Leslie Bow here explores how representations of females transgressing the social order play out in literature by Asian American women. Questions of ethnic belonging, sexuality, identification, and political allegiance are among the issues raised by such writers as Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, Bharati Mukherjee, Jade Snow Wong, Amy Tan, Sky Lee, Le Ly Hayslip, Wendy Law-Yone, Fiona Cheong, and Nellie Wong. Beginning with the notion that feminist and Asian American identity are mutually exclusive, Bow analyzes how women serve as boundary markers between ethnic or national collectives in order to reveal the male-based nature of social cohesion.

    In exploring the relationship between femininity and citizenship, liberal feminism and American racial discourse, and women’s domestic abuse and human rights, the author suggests that Asian American women not only mediate sexuality’s construction as a determiner of loyalty but also manipulate that construction as a tool of political persuasion in their writing. The language of betrayal, she argues, offers a potent rhetorical means of signaling how belonging is policed by individuals and by the state. Bow’s bold analysis exposes the stakes behind maintaining ethnic, feminist, and national alliances, particularly for women who claim multiple loyalties.

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