Like many college students, bestselling novelist Amy Tan worked a number of odd jobs while on her higher education journey. Switchboard operator. Carhop. Pizza maker. Bartender. Which is why her tuition-free years at San Jose City College were so valuable. Attending a community college “was a wonderful decision,” she once said. “Perhaps it was the only decision I could have made. I didn't have a lot of money, and I was putting myself through college.”
Tan was born in Oakland and grew up in Northern California. After her father and older brother both died from brain tumors in 1966 when she was a teen, her mother moved with her and Tan’s younger brother to Europe. Tan returned to the United States for college. Her mother had targeted Tan to attend Linfield College in Oregon, but she left to follow her boyfriend and future husband, Lou Dematte, to San Jose City College and changed her major from pre-med to English and linguistics. Tan later attended San Jose State University, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in linguistics. She briefly worked towards her doctorate at Berkeley before dropping out in 1976.
Tan’s books – “The Joy Luck Club,” “The Kitchen God's Wife,” “The Hundred Secret Senses,” “The Bonesetter's Daughter” and “Saving Fish from Drowning” – were all New York Times bestsellers and the 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,” and numerous articles for magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar and National Geographic. Her work has been translated into 35 languages, from Spanish, French and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew.
Tan served as co-producer and co-screenwriter with Ron Bass for the film adaptation of “The Joy Luck Club” and was the creative consultant for “Sagwa.” Her story in The New Yorker, “Immortal Heart,” was performed on stages throughout the United States and in France.