Amy Tan was born February 19, 1952 in Oakland, California. She became a published author at the age of eight with an essay on the public library that was published in a local newspaper.
She grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, surrounded by both Chinese and American influences. A major theme in her novels is that of assimilating into the mainstream American world at the expense of one's Chinese heritage. Other themes include generational and gender conflicts.
Her father died of brain cancer when she was fourteen years old. Around the same time, she learned that her mother had been married to a different man in China, before she emigrated to the United States.
She has three half-sisters from that marriage, a situation echoed by one of the characters in her first novel, The Joy Luck Club.
Tan attended high school in Switzerland and went to eight different colleges, eventually earning a master's degree in Linguistics from San Jose State University.
Before The Joy Luck Club (for which she won the L.A. Times Book Award and The National Book Award) was published in 1989, she had a wide variety of jobs, including counseling developmentally disabled
children and bartending.
She has published three other novels: The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), and The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001). Other works include two childrens books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa: the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994). Sagwa the Chinese Siamese cat has been developed into a PBS children's series. She also co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of The Joy Luck Club.
Her books are assigned reading in many high schools and colleges, and have been translated into at least twenty different languages.
She now lives in San Francisco and New York with her husband of more than twenty years, Lou DeMattei. They have a cat, Sagwa, and a yorkshire terrier, Babbazo (sometimes called Mr. Zo).
She smokes cigarettes, but not in public. " It's not a good image," she says. "Not that I actively set out to be one."