Born in the U.S. in 1952 to immigrant parents from China, Amy Tan grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended five colleges: Linfield College, San Jose City College, San Jose State University, University of California at Santa Cruz, and University of California at Berkeley. She received her B.A. with a double major in English and Linguistics, followed by her M.A. in Linguistics. She worked as a language development specialist for county-wide programs serving developmentally disabled children, birth to five, and later became director for a demonstration project funded by the U.S. Department of Education to mainstream multicultural children with developmental disabilities into early childhood programs. In 1981, she became a freelance business writer, working with management consulting and telecommunications companies, including IBM and AT&T.
In 1985, Amy attended her first fiction workshop at the Community of Writers in Palisades Tahoe, She and several participants formed a writers group, led by author and creative writing teacher Molly Giles. Her first story, “Rules of the Game,” was published in 1986 in a small literary magazine, FM Five. It was reprinted in Seventeen, and soon after translated into Italian and published in Grazia. Literary agentSandy Dijkstra read the story and offered to serve as her agent. In 1987, Amy went to China for the first time, accompanied by her mother. When she returned home, she learned that she had received several offers based on her submission of three short stories. The resulting book of connected stories,The Joy Luck Club, was hailed as a novel and became a surprise bestseller, spending over forty weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List.
Her other novels are The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement (2013), all New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of two memoirs,The Opposite of Fate and Where the Past Begins: Memory and Imagination, as well as two children’s books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat. Her essays and stories have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, National Geographic, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. She is also the author of the short story “Rules for Virgins” published in e-book format (Byliner Original). Her work has been translated into 35 languages, from Spanish, French, and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic, Estonian, and Hebrew.
She served as Co-producer and Co-screenwriter with Ron Bass for the film adaptation of "The Joy Luck Club," for which they received WGA and BAFTA nominations. She was the Creative Consultant for "Sagwa," the Emmy nominated PBS 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 U.S. and in France. Her essays and stories are found in hundreds of anthologies and textbooks, and have been assigned as required reading in many high schools and universities. She was the guest editor for Best American Short Stories 1999. She appeared as herself in the animated series The Simpsons. She is the subject of a documentary Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, directed by the late James Redford, which aired on PBS American Masters and is now available on Netflix. Her class on writing, memory and imagination can be found on MasterClass. The findings of her ancestry will be revealed in 2023 on the PBS show Finding Your Roots.
Amy Tan was a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the International Orange Prize. She is the recipient of many honors, including the Commonwealth Gold Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the National Humanities Award. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Amy has lectured internationally at universities, including Stanford, Oxford, Jagellonium, and Georgetown both in Washington, DC and Doha, Qatar. She did a TED talk on creativity and spoke at the White House, appeared on the popular NPR program Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, as well as on Sesame Street.and in the documentary Boomers. The National Endowment for the Arts chose The Joy Luck Club for its inaugural Big Read program in 2007.
Amy also wrote the libretto for The Bonesetter’s Daughter, which had its world premiere with the San Francisco Opera in September 2008. Since 1993, she has served as lead rhythm dominatrix, backup singer, and second tambourine with the literary garage band, the Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members include Stephen King, Dave Barry, and Scott Turow.
In 2016, Amy began taking nature journaling classes with John Muir Laws.
During the pandemic shutdown, she spent long hours observing the behavior of wild birds in her backyard. Her editor, Dan Halpern, suggested she turn those pencil sketches, colored portraits and journal notesinto an illustrated book, The Backyard Bird Chronicles.will be published April 2024 by Knopf.
She serves on the board of American Bird Conservancy.and The Community of Writers.
Amy lives with her husband and their two dogs in California and New York.