As her Facebook page states, “Amy Tan failed her mother’s expectations that she become a doctor and concert pianist. She settled on writing fiction.” Said “settling” began when the now acclaimed author was 33 years old, and by 34 her first short story was published. Three years later, in 1989, she published her first book, a collection of short stories called The Joy Luck Club, which became the longest-running New York Times bestseller that year. Today, February 19th, is Amy Tan’s 64th birthday, and we’re celebrating this accomplished and fascinating woman whose name you likely know, by sharing what you might not know about her.
“My mother didn’t teach me lessons about being Chinese as strongly as she did the notion of who I was as a female.”
The American writer’s much-loved, best-selling novels have been translated into 35 languages, from Spanish, French, and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew. They includeThe Joy Luck Club (adapted into a successful film in 1993), 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 recipients 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, and numerous articles for magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and National Geographic. She is also the author of the short story Rules for Virgins.
Curiously Fun Facts About Amy Tan:
Amy was the lead rhythm dominatrix, backup singer and second tambourine with the Rock Bottom Remainders, a unique garage band comprised of some of today’s most shining literary lights… we’re talking REALLY famous authors… Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Stephen King, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, Greg Iles, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr, Ridley Pearson, Sam Barry and Scott Turow. Between them, they’ve published more than 150 titles, sold more than 150 million books, and been translated into more than 25 languages. But once a year they shed their pen-and-pencil clutching personas and became rock stars, complete with roadies, groupies and a wicked cool tour bus. Hailed by critics as having “one of the world’s highest ratios of noise to talent,” the Remainders had no music videos, no record contract, no GRAMMY nominations – but did have over 159,000 hits on Google. More importantly, since the band’s founding in Anaheim in 1992 – at a book convention – they raised over $2 million for various literacy causes. After a 20 year run, they performed their last public concert in June 2012.
“When Amy was fifteen, her father and older brother died of brain tumors six months apart. Her mother took Amy and her younger brother, John, to Europe, to see the world before a curse killed them all. They settled in Switzerland. Angry and confused, Amy found comfort in a counter-culture boyfriend–unemployed and psychiatrically suicidal, who hung with hippies. At age sixteen, Amy was arrested for drugs and let off with a warning.” “I think books were my salvation, they saved me from being miserable.”
“She went from arrest to winning an American Baptist Scholarship to attend Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. There, in 1970, she met Lou DeMattei on a blind date.” They have been together ever since, marrying in 1974.
Following the murder of a roommate in 1976, Amy left a linguistics doctoral program at UC Berkeley and was inspired by his intended career to work in the field of disabilities. “She became a Language Development Specialist for programs serving children with developmental disabilities, and later, she became the Director of a demonstration project on mainstreaming multicultural children with disabilities into the public school system.
Amy was bitten by a Lyme infected tick in 1999. The disease that manifested and ravaged her body and mind went undiagnosed for four years by a number of doctors at major urban medical centers. Among the host of horrific symptoms it caused, the Lyme also claimed all of the skills necessary for Amy to do her work… writing fiction suddenly became a challenge for the acclaimed author. With treatment, she fortunately regained her writing skills. “Today, while not cured, her disease is medically managed, and her health, by her own new definition, is excellent. She now has a valid excuse why she cannot drive and must have her husband play chauffeur.”