Amy Tan is an American author of Chinese origin who mainly explores the elements of mother-daughter relationships in her works. She has produced several works of fiction, as well as non-fiction, the best known of which is ‘The Joy Luck Club’, which revolves around the lives of four mothers and their four daughters. The book won many prizes and has been translated into several languages. Many of her other novels such as ‘The Kitchen God’s Wife’ and ‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’ have also become bestsellers. A critically acclaimed author today, she had always dreamed of making a career in writing. When she was a student, her parents expected her to become a neurosurgeon but she defied them by joining an English Major course. After working as a technical writer for some time, she took to writing fiction. Her first novel, ‘The Joy Luck Club’ became a New York Times bestseller and won her many accolades and prizes. The book has also been adapted into a successful movie for which she co-wrote the screenplay. She went on to author other novels which were also well received by the readers and critics alike. She also writes books for children. One of her children’s books, ‘Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat’ was adapted into a television program.
Childhood & Early Life
Amy Tan was born to Chinese Immigrants John Tan and Daisy. Her father was an electrical engineer and Baptist minister. Her mother had previously been married to an abusive man with whom she had three daughters.
Tragedy struck the household when both her father and brother died of brain tumour within a year. Her mother took 15-year-old Amy and her younger brother to Switzerland.
Her mother wanted her to be a doctor but Amy wanted to pursue a career in writing. She attended the San Jose State University from where she received her master’s degree in English and linguistics.
She completed her doctoral studies in linguistics from the University of California.
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After completing her education, she started working as a freelance technical writer, often putting in ninety working hours per week. She was labeled a workaholic by her friends, but she found no joy in her work.
She began writing fiction as a hobby to distract herself from her workaholism. Her stories were appreciated and she was invited to join the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, a fiction writers’ workshop.
Her first novel ‘The Joy Luck Club’ was published in 1989. Though commonly referred to as a novel, the book is actually a collection of 16 interconnected short stories. The novel became a critically acclaimed best seller prompting Tan to pursue fiction writing as a career.
She published her second novel, ‘The Kitchen God’s Wife’ after a gap of two years in 1991. This book dealt with the issue of generation gap that exists between a mother and daughter, and creates hurdles in open communication.
Her first book for children, ‘The Moon Lady’ was published in 1992. It was followed by ‘Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat’ in 1994. Both the books were illustrated by Gretchen Schields.
She collaborated with Dave Barry, Stephen King and others, in bringing out her work of non-fiction, ‘Mid-Life Confidential: The Rock Bottom Remainders Tour America with Three Cords and an Attitude’ in 1994.
Her third novel, ‘The Hundred Secret Senses’ was published in 1995. Slightly deviating from the mother-daughter theme of its predecessors, this novel focused on the relationship between two sisters. It was shortlisted for Orange Prize for fiction.
Her non-fiction titled ‘Mother’ which she co-wrote with other prominent female authors like Maya Angelou and Mary Higgins Clark was out in 1996.
In 1999 she edited a volume in The Best American Short Stories series along with Katrina Kennison.
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‘The Bonesetter’s Daughter’, Tan’s fourth novel published in 2001, also revolved around the relationship between a mother-daughter duo. The novel was later made into an opera.
She came up with her autobiography ‘The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings’ in 2003. In her autobiography she shared her experience with Lyme disease—a bacterial infection that is spread through the bite of one of several types of ticks.
Her 2005 novel, ‘Saving Fish from Drowning’ dealt with a concept very different from her other works. The novel covers the story of eleven American tourists who visit China and Burma, and explores the relationships among them.
She published ‘Rules for Virgins’ in 2011—her first novel after a gap of six years. In this book she tells the story of courtesans who ruthlessly compete with one another to attract wealthy clients. Some of her readers were startled by the sensual content of the novel.
Her new novel ‘The Valley of Amazement’ in slated to be released by the end of 2013. The book deals with courtesan culture and the rebellion in mother-daughter relationships.
The book which brought her international fame is her very first novel, ‘The Joy Luck Club’ published in 1989. The novel became an instant bestseller and won her critical acclaim from reviewers. The phenomenal success of this book launched her career as a novelist.
Awards & Achievements
Her Debut novel, ‘The Joy Luck Club’ (1989) won three literary awards: Los Angeles Times Book Award, The Commonwealth Gold Award and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.
She was presented the Golden Plate by the Academy of Achievement. This award is presented annually to high achieving individuals from different fields.
Personal Life & Legacy
She met tax attorney Louis DeMattei on a blind date and married him in 1974. The couple does not have any children.
She was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 1999. She helped to form LymeAid 4 Kids in collaboration with the Lyme Disease Association.
She is a dog lover and has pet dogs at home.
Author Frank Chin criticized her on the grounds that she encourages cultural and racist stereotypes.
She likes outdoor activities like skiing and hiking.