Leslie Bow

Position title: Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor, English and Asian American Studies Dorothy Draheim Professor of English

Pronouns: She/her/hers

Email: lbow@wisc.edu

Helen C. White Hall, Rm. 7179

Research Interests

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

  • Ph.D. Board of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1993
  • M.A. English, State University of New York, Buffalo, 1988
  • B.A. English, University of California, Berkeley, 1984 [Magna Cum Laude, Departmental Honors, Phi Beta Kappa]

Recent Publications


Selected Articles and Book Chapters

  • “Cultural Appropriation and the Paradox of Method: Nikki S. Lee Performing Intersectionality,” In The Routledge Companion to Intersectionalities, ed. Jennifer C. Nash and Samantha Pinto (New York: Routledge, 2023). 437-446.
  • “Racist Cute: Caricature, Kawaii-Style, and the Asian Thing,” 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,” American Literature 91. 2 (2019): 323–356. https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-7529167, PDF 2.
  • “Introduction: Jade Snow Wong’s Giftshop and Travel Service,” Introduction to new edition of Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong, Classics of Asian American Literature. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019. ix-xxx.
  • “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).

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).

Courses Taught

Asian American Studies 152: Asian American Literary and Popular Culture: Race, Fantasy, Futures. ENG/GWS/AAS 464: Asian American Women Writers and ENG/GWS 248: Women in Ethnic Literature; ENG 817: Seminar—American Literature

Recent Books

  • Bow (Co-editor), Leslie, and Russ Castronovo (Co-editor). The Oxford Handbook of Twentieth-Century American Literature. Oxford University Press, 2022. Print.

    An essential and field-defining resource, this volume brings fresh approaches to major US novels, poetry, and performance literature of the twentieth century. With sections on ‘structures’, ‘movements’, ‘attachments’, and ‘imaginaries’, this handbook brings a new set of tools and perspectives to the rich and diverse traditions of American literary production. The editors have turned to leading as well as up-and-coming scholars in the field to foreground methodological concerns that assess the challenges of transnational perspectives, critical race and indigenous studies, disability and care studies, environmental criticism, affect studies, gender analysis, media and sound studies, and other cutting-edge approaches. The 20 original chapters include the discussion of working-class literature, border narratives, children’s literature, novels of late-capitalism, nuclear poetry, fantasies of whiteness, and Native American, African American, Asian American, and Latinx creative texts.

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  • Bow, Leslie. Racist Love: Asian Abstraction and the Pleasures of Fantasy. Duke University Press, 2022. Print.

    In Racist Love, Leslie Bow traces the ways in which Asian Americans become objects of anxiety and desire. Conceptualizing these feelings as “racist love,” she explores how race is abstracted and then projected onto Asianized objects. Bow shows how anthropomorphic objects and images such as cartoon animals in children’s books, home décor and cute tchotchkes, contemporary visual art, and artificially intelligent robots function as repositories of seemingly positive feelings and attachment to Asianness. At the same time, Bow demonstrates that these Asianized proxies reveal how fetishistic attraction and pleasure serve as a source of anti-Asian bias and violence. By outlining how attraction to popular representations of Asianness cloaks racial resentment and fears of globalization, Bow provides a new means of understanding the ambivalence surrounding Asians in the United States while offering a theory of the psychological, affective, and symbolic dynamics of racist love in contemporary America.

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  • Bow, Leslie. Fifth Chinese Daughter. University of Washington Press, 2019. Print.

    Jade Snow Wong’s autobiography portrays her coming-of-age in San Francisco’s Chinatown, offering a rich depiction of her immigrant family and her strict upbringing, as well as her rebellion against family and societal expectations for a Chinese woman. Originally published in 1950, Fifth Chinese Daughter was one of the most widely read works by an Asian American author in the twentieth century. The US State Department even sent its charismatic young author on a four-month speaking tour throughout Asia.

    Cited as an influence by prominent Chinese American writers such as Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, Fifth Chinese Daughter is a foundational work in Asian American literature. It was written at a time when few portraits of Asian American life were available, and no similar works were as popular and broadly appealing. This new edition includes the original illustrations by Kathryn Uhl and features an introduction by Leslie Bow, who critically examines the changing reception and enduring legacy of the book and offers insight into Wong’s life as an artist and an ambassador of Chinese American culture.

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  • Bow (Editor), Leslie. Asian American Feminisms. Routledge, 2012. Print.

    Especially since the postwar women’s and civil rights movements, there has been an explosion of interest in race and gender in the United States. Writing by and about Asian American women has kept pace with the emergence of serious scholarship concerned with the nuances of gender and culture, and as research in and around the area flourishes as never before, this new four-volume collection from Routledge and Edition Synapse meets the need for an authoritative reference work to make sense of a rapidly growing and ever more complex corpus of literature.

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  • 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

    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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