In 1989, an unknown writer named Amy Tan published a novel entitled The Joy Club, and the career of a major American writer was born.
In this episode of The Archive Project, we are reaching deep into the archive to 1991, when we hosted Tan because there’s something very special about hearing from a writer at the very beginning of their career. At the time, The Joy Luck Club had been on the New York Times bestseller list for two full years and the movie of the book was in development, with Tan as the writer and producer. There was lots of anticipation about what this writer would do next. Of course, Tan has gone on to have an incredible literary career, publishing half a dozen novels, including the bestseller The Bonesetter’s Daughter, books for children, nonfiction, and most recently a memoir called Where the Past Begins.
In this talk, Tan takes us back through her life to talk about her parents who immigrated from China in 1949, how Mandarin influenced the ways she wrote—and writes—in English, and how she “found her voice by not finding it.” She also talks about her early days first as a freelancer and novice fiction writer when someone told her, upon hearing the premise of the short story that would become The Joy Luck Club, that “no one wants to read about Chinese mothers.” Of course, we now know that millions of readers in 35 counties actually did.
Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, Saving Fish from Drowning, and two children’s books, The Moon Lady and The Chinese Siamese Cat, which was adapted into a PBS television series. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club. Her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.