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Amy Tan's Biography

Member Info

Louis DeMattei, since 1974
Aug 2007

As a child Amy Tan believed her life was duller than most. She read to escape. Her parents wanted her to be a doctor and a concert pianist. She secretly dreamed of becoming an artist. She began writing fiction when she was 33. Her first short story was published when she was 34, and three years later, she published her first book, a collection of short stories called The Joy Luck Club, which the critics reviewed as a novel.

Amy was born in the United States a few years after her parents immigrated from China. Her father, John, was an electrical engineer and also a Baptist minister. Her mother, Daisy, had left behind a secret past, including three daughters in China and the ghost of her mother, who had killed herself when Daisy was nine. The Tan family belonged to a small social group called The Joy Luck Club, whose families enacted the immigrant version of the American Dream. Nearly every year, the Tan family moved, from one mixed neighborhood in Oakland after another and eventually to a series of nearly all-white suburbs in the Bay Area. By the time Amy was fifteen, her father and older brother had died of brain tumors, and at seventeen, Amy had graduated from a private high school in Switzerland.

In 1985, while working as a freelance business writer for telecommunications companies, she attended a fiction workshop at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. There she met writer Molly Giles, who gave her advice on a flawed short story with too many inconsistent voices and too many beginnings of stories. Giles' suggestions guided Amy to write the multiple stories that would become The Joy Luck Club, published in 1989. Today Molly Giles is her editor. Amy's other novels are The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, and Saving Fish from Drowning, all New York Times bestsellers and the recipient of various awards. She is also the author of a memoir, The Opposite of Fate, two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat, as well as numerous articles for magazines, such as The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and National Geographic. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages, from Spanish, French, and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Amy served as co-producer and co-screenwriter with Ron Bass for the film adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, directed by Wayne Wang. The screenplay was nominated for best adaptation by the British Film Academy and the Writers Guild. She was the Creative Consultant for Sagwa, the Emmy-nominated television series for children, which has aired worldwide, including in the UK, Latin America, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Singapore. Her story in The New Yorker, "Immortal Heart," was performed on stages throughout the United States and in France. Her essays and stories are found in hundreds of anthologies and textbooks, and they are assigned as "required reading" in many high schools and universities. The National Endowment for the Arts chose The Joy Luck Club for its 2007 "Big Read" program. She has lectured internationally at universities, including Stanford, Oxford, Jagellonium, Beijing, and Georgetown both in Washington, D.C., and Doha, Qatar.

Amy's fifteen years of classical piano came in handy when she wrote the libretto for the opera The Bonesetter's Daughter, composed by Stewart Wallace, which will have its world premiere in September 2008 with the San Francisco Opera. Ms Tan's other musical work for the stage is limited to serving as lead rhythm dominatrix, backup singer, and second tambourine with the literary garage band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members include Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Stephen King, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, and Scott Turow. In spite of their dubious talent, their yearly gigs have managed to raise nearly two million dollars for literacy programs.

She has been married for a million years to Lou DeMattei, a retired tax attorney who serves as a full-time board member for Half the Sky, which creates caregiving and developmental programs for orphanages in China. They are devoted parents to a two-pound Yorkie named Lilli.

Influences

The Holy Ghost of my father and the Chinese ghosts of my mother.

The American Dream and the Chinese family's interpretation of that.

Free books from the library every week and reading books that appeared on the banned book lists.

Writing secret letters to my friends about running away to Haight-Ashbury and writing thank you letters as my mother dictated them to me in bad English.

The early deaths of my older brother and father and my mother's belief that I would die next.

An SAT score in the 400s for English and SAT score in the 700s in Spanish

Listening to my mother and her friends gossip in Chinese. Understanding Chinese but not being able to speak it.

Luck and an amazing amount of it.

Agents

Talks, lectures, appearances: Steven Barclay Agency
Literary rights: Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency

Recommended Links

Publishers

Putnam
Penguin
Ballantine
Ivy
Aladdin Picture Books

Interests & Hobbies

Dogs,  Skiing,  drawing, taking photos,  molecular biology,  animal behavior, symphony, opera,  China,  classical music, piano,  travel to Asia, Paris