"I think I've always been somebody, since the deaths of my father and brother, who was afraid to hope. So, I was more prepared for failure and for rejection than for success." -- Amy Tan
Amy Tan (; born February 19, 1952) is a Chinese American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships. In 1993, Tan's adaptation of her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, became a commercially successful film. The book has been translated into 35 languages.
Tan has written several other bestselling novels, including The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter and Saving Fish From Drowning. She also wrote a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings. Her most recent novel Saving Fish From Drowning explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition in the jungles of Burma. 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 airing on PBS. She also appeared on PBS in a short spot encouraging children to write.
"God, life changes faster than you think.""I also thought of playing improvisational jazz and I did take lessons for a while. At first I tried to write fiction by making up things that were completely alien to my life.""I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years washing away my pain, the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water.""I didn't fear failure. I expected failure.""I have a writer's memory which makes everything worse than maybe it actually was.""I learned to forgive myself, and that enabled me to forgive my mother as a person.""I loved fairy tales when I was a kid. Grimm. The grimmer the better. I loved gruesome gothic tales and, in that respect, I liked Bible stories, because to me they were very gothic.""I read a book a day when I was a kid. My family was not literary; we did not have any books in the house.""I saw my mother in a different light. We all need to do that. You have to be displaced from what's comfortable and routine, and then you get to see things with fresh eyes, with new eyes.""I started a second novel seven times and I had to throw them away.""I thought I was clever enough to write as well as these people and I didn't realize that there is something called originality and your own voice.""I used to think that my mother got into arguments with people because they didn't understand her English, because she was Chinese.""I wanted to write stories for myself. At first it was purely an aesthetic thing about craft. I just wanted to become good at the art of something. And writing was very private.""I was intelligent enough to make up my own mind. I not only had freedom of choice, I had freedom of expression.""I would find myself laughing and wondering where these ideas came from. You can call it imagination, I suppose. But I was grateful for wherever they came from.""I would still like to have that luxury, to be able to just sit and draw for hours and hours and hours. In a way, that's what I do as a writer.""In America nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you.""It's a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life.""It's both rebellion and conformity that attack you with success.""My mother had a very difficult childhood, having seen her own mother kill herself. So she didn't always know how to be the nurturing mother that we all expect we should have.""My mother said I was a clingy kid until I was about four. I also remember that from the age of eight she and I fought almost every day.""My parents had very high expectations. They expected me to get straight A's from the time I was in kindergarten.""My parents told me I would become a doctor and then in my spare time I would become a concert pianist. So, both my day job and my spare time were sort of taken care of.""No one in my family was a reader of literary fiction. So, I didn't have encouragement, but I didn't have discouragement, because I don't think anybody knew what that meant.""People think it's a terrible tragedy when somebody has Alzheimer's. But in my mother's case, it's different. My mother has been unhappy all her life. For the first time in her life, she's happy.""Placing on writers the responsibility to represent a culture is an onerous burden.""She said 'I'm by commission. You don't have to pay anything until you sell anything.' I said, 'Well fine. You want to be my agent and not make anything.' I thought, 'Boy, is she dumb.'""That was a wonderful period in my life. I mean, I didn't become an artist, but somebody let me do something I loved. What a luxury, to do something you love to do.""The forbidden things were a great influence on my life. I was forbidden from reading A Catcher in the Rye.""There are a lot of people who think that's what's needed to be successful is always being right, always being careful, always picking the right path.""We are the kind of people who obsess over one word... but we have only one shot to get it right in concert. It was hard the first time I practiced with them. I was so nervous that my vocal chords were paralyzed for about a half-hour.""Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.""Words to me were magic. You could say a word and it could conjure up all kinds of images or feelings or a chilly sensation or whatever. It was amazing to me that words had this power.""Writing is an extreme privilege but it's also a gift. It's a gift to yourself and it's a gift of giving a story to someone.""You can get sucked into the idea that, 'Gosh, this is impressive. Maybe I should do this. It will look good.' Or 'I'll write like this because it will impress that critic.'""You write a book and you hope somebody will go out and pay $24.95 for what you've just said. I think books were my salvation. Books saved me from being miserable."
Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California to Chinese immigrants John Tan, an electrical engineer and Baptist minister, and Daisy, who was forced to leave her three daughters from a previous marriage behind in Shanghai. This incident provided the basis for Tan's first novel, 1989 New York Times bestseller The Joy Luck Club.
Amy is the middle child and only daughter among Daisy and John Tan's three children. In the late 1960s Amy's sixteen-year-old brother Peter died of a brain tumor. Within a year of Peter's death, Amy's father died of the same disease. After these family tragedies, Daisy moved Amy and her younger brother John Jr. to Switzerland, where Amy finished high school. During this period, Amy learned about her mother's former marriage to an abusive man in China, and of their four children, including three daughters and a son who died as a toddler. In 1987 Amy traveled with Daisy to China. There, Amy finally met her three half-sisters.
Tan received her bachelor's and master's degrees in English and linguistics from San Josť State University, and later did doctoral linguistics studies at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
She resides in Sausalito, California with her husband, Louis DeMattei, a lawyer whom she met on a blind date and married in 1974.
Tan is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band consisting of published writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening, Dave Barry, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry , and Stephen King, among others.
"I think books were my salvation, they saved me from being miserable."
"You see what power is — holding someone else's fear in your hand and showing it to them"
"I'm sitting in the $4.95 bookstore bleachers along with Shakespeare, Conrad and Joyce," she said. "I acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference that separates us. I am a contemporary author and they are not. And since I'm not dead yet, I can talk back." (The Opposite of Fate 10)