Amy Tan

Born in the US to immigrant parents from China, Amy Tan failed her mother’s expectations that she become a doctor and concert pianist. She settled on writing fiction. Her novels are The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter,Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement, 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, and numerous articles for magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and National Geographic. Ms Tan served as co-producer and co-screenwriter with Ron Bass for the film adaptation of The Joy Luck Club. She appeared as herself in the animated series The Simpsons. Ms Tan has lectured internationally at universities, including Stanford, Oxford, Jagellonium, Beijing and Georgetown. Ms Tan also serves as the Literary Editor for the Los Angeles Times magazine, West. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages, from Spanish, French, and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Below Amy Tan talks about her life and its relation to her books:

‘I was born in Oakland, California in 1952, two and a half years after my parents immigrated to the United States. My father, an electrical engineer in Peking, received a scholarship to MIT, but chose instead to go to Divinity School to become a Baptist Minister. My mother, who came from a wealthy Shanghai family, worked nights as a licensed vocational nurse.

‘We were not a literary family. My early readings were from hymnals, the Bibles my father collected in different languages, the sermons he prepared each week, the World Book Encyclopaedia and later, weekly books from the public library. My parents believed strongly in education and good English skills as the stepping stones to success in America. At age eight, I wrote an essay, ‘Why I love the Library’ and sent it in to a contest. I won my first prize, a transistor radio, and the honour of having my essay and photo published in the local Santa Rosa newspaper. This convinced me that writing could be a rewarding and lucrative experience and so I took up reading the thesaurus, in addition to fairy tales.

‘Since it was difficult for a Chinese minister to find a clergy, my father returned to engineering and our family moved up notches, each year into a better house in a better neighbourhood, sometimes around the corner from the last one. Thus, I am a local girl from Fresno; Oakland; Hayward; Santa Rosa; Palo Alto; Sunnyvale; Santa Clara; and San Jose. I’ve lived in San Francisco the longest: fourteen years.

‘Like many American-born Chinese, I’ve had some difficulties reconciling which parts of me are Chinese and which are American. In October 1987 I went to China with my husband and mother. It was just as my mother said: as soon as my feet touched China, I became Chinese. In Beijing and Shanghai I met my half-sisters for the first time – the daughters my mother had to leave behind when she came to the United States in 1949. I met my uncle, a high-ranking Communist official who once renounced his mother, my grandmother, because she had capitulated to the evils of a corrupt society; she became a concubine and then committed suicide at age thirty-nine.

‘I began writing The Joy Luck Club when I returned from China. The book is fictional; however, the Joy Luck Club is real. My father named it. My mother still plays mah-jong at Joy Luck once a month until six in the morning. The genesis for many of the stories comes from my mother: her tales about her life in China, the injustices heaped on her by rude shopkeepers, the details of my childhood.’

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