Amy Tan

AMY TAN (1952-   )

Presented by Wilda Dow on November 14, 2017, to the Calgary Women’s Literary Club

Amy Tan is a contemporary Chinese-American writer. She was born in Oakland, California to Chinese parents who had emigrated to America, following the Communist takeover in China in 1949. In her memoir, The Opposite of Fate, she takes us on a journey from her sometimes turbulent childhood to the present day and her arrival as one of the world’s best novelists.

Tan’s father, an engineer and Baptist minister, was certainly a force in her life, but it was her connection with her mother that fuels Tan’s writing. Her mother, distraught after the death of Tan’s father, once chased her with a meat cleaver. And it is her mother’s words and actions, which Tan wonderfully evokes, that ultimately form the fabric of Tan’s memories, and the person she’s become.

When she was growing up, she felt burdened by her parents’ aspirations for her to become a concert pianist and a doctor, which led to her taking piano lessons for fifteen years. She writes, “Even to this day, I realize that many of these expectations led me in part to be a writer.” She says, “I wanted to be just myseIf, and I was, inside. And that private little place that I was, was the writer.”

Tan is best known for novels that focus on mother-daughter relationships, and Chinese-American culture, novels like 1989’s The Joy Luck Club. Her latest book, Where the Past Begins, is a writer’s memoir.  In it, Tan delves into her past to uncover the sources of her own creativity. By looking into vivid memories of her own traumatic childhood, and shocking truths uncovered by family memorabilia, this memoir takes us into the workings of her writer’s mind. The collection raised questions about Tan’s family history, both in this country and in China. She says, “As I looked at these things, whether they were documents or photos, these emotions came up.  And I realized if I took those emotions, I could write a story about them.” It is when Tan is digging into the history of her family in China that she discovers where her own past truly began. These papers also made her think about the ways the past can be transformed into a work of fiction. Tan offers deep insight into the writing process throughout the book.

Her books include, The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, Saving Fish from Drowning, The Valley of Amazement, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, her two memoirs, The Opposite of Fate and Where the Past Begins, as well as two children’s books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat.