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Amy Tan
Amy Tan.jpg
Born Amy Ruth Tan
(1952-02-19) February 19, 1952 (age 71)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Education San Jose State University (BA, MA)
Notable works The Joy Luck Club (1989), The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001)
Spouse Lou DeMattei (m. 1974)

Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 譚恩美
Simplified Chinese 谭恩美

Amy Ruth Tan (born on February 19, 1952) is an American author known for the novel The Joy Luck Club, which was adapted into a film of the same name, as well as other novels, short story collections, and children's books.

Tan has written several other novels, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement. Tan's latest book is a memoir entitled Where The Past Begins: A Writer's Memoir (2017). In addition to these, Tan has written two children's books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series that aired on PBS.

Early life and education

Tan was born in Oakland, California. She is the second of three children born to Chinese immigrants John and Daisy Tan. Her father was an electrical engineer and Baptist minister who traveled to the United States in order to escape the chaos of the Chinese Civil War. Tan attended Marian A. Peterson High School in Sunnyvale for one year. When she was fifteen years old, her father and older brother Peter both died of brain tumors within six months of each other.

Daisy subsequently moved Amy and her younger brother, John Jr., to Switzerland, where Amy finished high school at the Institut Monte Rosa, Montreux. During this period, Amy learned about her mother's previous marriage to another man in China, of their four children (a son who died as a toddler and three daughters), and how her mother left these children behind in Shanghai. This incident was the basis for Tan's first novel The Joy Luck Club. In 1987, Amy traveled with Daisy to China, where she met her three half-sisters.

Tan had a difficult relationship with her mother. At one point, Daisy held a knife to Amy's throat and threatened to kill her while the two were arguing over Amy's new boyfriend. Her mother wanted Tan to be independent, stressing that Tan needed to make sure she was self-sufficient. ..... Daisy died in 1999.

Tan and her mother did not speak for six months after Tan dropped out of the Baptist college her mother had selected for her, Linfield College in Oregon, to follow her boyfriend to San Jose City College in California. Tan met him on a blind date and married him in 1974. Tan later received bachelor's and master's degrees in English and linguistics from San José State University. She took doctoral courses in linguistics at University of California, Santa Cruz and University of California, Berkeley.


While in school, Tan worked odd jobs—serving as a switchboard operator, carhop, bartender, and pizza maker—before starting a writing career. As a freelance business writer, she worked on projects for AT&T, IBM, Bank of America, and Pacific Bell, writing under non-Chinese-sounding pseudonyms.

Tan began writing her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, while working as a business writer, and joined a writers' workshop, the Squaw Valley Program, to refine her draft. She submitted a part of the draft novel as a story titled 'Endgame' to the workshop. Author Molly Giles, who was teaching at the workshop, encouraged Tan to send some of her writing to magazines. Stories by Tan, drawn from the manuscript of The Joy Luck Club, were published by both FM Magazine and Seventeen, although a story was rejected by the New Yorker. Working with agent Sandra Dijkstra, Tan published several other parts of the novel as short stories, before it was sent as a draft novel manuscript. She received offers from several major publishing houses, including A.A. Knopf, Vintage, Harper & Row, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Simon and Schuster, and Putnam Books, but declined them all as they offered compensation that she and agent considered to be insufficient. She eventually accepted a second offer from Putnam Books, for $50,000 in December 1987. The Joy Luck Club, consists of eight related stories about the experiences of four Chinese–American mother–daughter pairs.

Tan's second novel, The Kitchen God's Wife, also focuses on the relationship between an immigrant Chinese mother and her American-born daughter. Tan's third novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, was a departure from the first two novels, in focusing on the relationships between sisters, inspired partly by one of the half-siblings Tan sponsored to the United States. Tan's fourth novel, The Bonesetter's Daughter, returns to the theme of an immigrant Chinese woman and her American-born daughter.

..... Before the band retired from touring, it had raised more than a million dollars for literacy programs. Tan appeared as herself in the third episode of Season 12 of The Simpsons, "Insane Clown Poppy."

Tan's work has been adapted into several different forms of media. The Joy Luck Club was adapted into a play in 1993; that same year, director Wayne Wang adapted the book into a film. The Bonesetter's Daughter was adapted into an opera in 2008. Tan's children's book, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat was adapted into an PBS animated television show, also named Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat.

Other media

In May, 2021, the documentary, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir was released, first on PBS, and later on Netflix.


Tan has received criticism from some for her depiction of Chinese culture. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote that Tan's novels "appear to possess the authority of authenticity but are often products of the American-born writer's own heavily mediated understanding of things Chinese". She stated that the popularity of Tan's work can mostly be attributed to Western consumers "who find her work comforting in its reproduction of stereotypical images". Author Frank Chin has said that the storylines of her novels "demonstrate a vested interest in casting Chinese men in the worst possible light". He has accused Tan of "pandering to the popular imagination" of Westerners regarding Chinese people.

Amy Tan has dismissed these criticisms, stating that her works are not intended to be viewed as representative of general Chinese/Asian American experiences.

Personal life

While Tan was studying at Berkeley, her roommate was murdered and Tan had to identify the body. The incident left her temporarily mute. She said that every year for ten years, on the anniversary of the day she identified the body, she lost her voice.

In 1998, Tan contracted Lyme disease, which went misdiagnosed for a few years. As a result, she suffers complications like epileptic seizures. Tan co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids, which helps uninsured children pay for treatment. She wrote about her life with Lyme disease in The New York Times.

Tan also suffers from depression, for which she takes antidepressants. .....

Tan resides near San Francisco in Sausalito, California, with her husband Lou DeMattei (whom she married in 1974), in a house they designed "to feel open and airy, like a tree house, but also to be a place where we could live comfortably into old age" with accessibility features.


See also

  • Chinese American literature
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