Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

Position title: Madeline Doran Dissertation Fellow (2019-2020)

English, UW-Madison

Portrait image of Erica Kalnay: Smiling multiracial Asian/white woman with long black hair wearing a red coat.

Looking-Glass Worlds: Oriental Intimacies and Fin-de-Siècle Children’s Culture

This project traces the transnational circulation of racial affects by way of children’s dolls and picture books that traveled across Japan, England, and America beginning at the fin de siècle. I argue that, in conjunction with the rise of Japonisme, children’s culture participated in a global affective economy that mediated racial politics through cute aesthetics and tender feelings. By inviting affectionate relations of enchantment, embrace, and friendship, children’s commodities associated with the Orient suggested intense affective attachments toward racialized others. These “intimacies by proxy” helped establish the peculiar stickiness of racial images and ideologies that still haunt children’s culture today.


Erica Kanesaka Kalnay is a Ph.D. Candidate in English Literary Studies at UW-Madison. She specializes in children’s literature and culture, with interests in Asian diaspora studies, affect theory, aesthetic theory, feminist theory, and visual and material cultures. Her first academic article appeared in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, and a second article is forthcoming in Oxford Literary Review. Her work has received awards from the Association for Asian American Studies, the North American Victorian Studies Association, and the Northeast Victorian Studies Association and fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and Rona Jaffe Foundation for Women Writers. She is committed to interdisciplinary, intersectional scholarship that bridges the gaps between academia, art, and activism and helped establish the English Department’s Diversity & Inclusion Student Committee and Inclusive Pedagogies Working Group. She also holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from New York University and writes essays and short stories. Her public writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Avidly, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, The Capital Times, Public Books, V21: Victorian Studies for the 21st Century, and elsewhere.