The Almost End of Amy Tan’s Writing
Posted by WCPLtn
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Amy Tan was born on February 19, 1952 in Oakland, California. Happy 64th, Amy! We’re all very glad that you are recovering from your harrowing bout of illness from Lyme Disease. Yes, Amy Tan, the famous author, contracted Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, it was misdiagnosed for years and she had thought her writing career was over. And what a career she has had!
She is most famous for her novels about Chinese families, especially The Joy Luck Club.
- In The Joy Luck Club, four Chinese-American daughters learn the history and back story of their mothers in this novel. The mothers, who meet up regularly to play Mah Jong, called themselves the Joy Luck Club. It was a major best seller and book club favorite.
- In The Kitchen God’s Wife, two best friends have kept each other’s secrets. Now that one of them is deathly ill, the other believes it is her duty to tell her secrets to her friend’s daughter. But the friend gets better – now what?
- In The Hundred Secret Senses, Olivia meets her much older half-sister for the first time. It is like meeting someone from another world. And really it was another world. Kwan grew up in China, Olivia in America.
- In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Ruth Young’s mother LuLing is slowing succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Before she loses herself completely, she gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a very different side of her mother.
- In Saving Fish from Drowning, Bibi Chen has planned a picaresque journey of the senses on the Burma Road. After she dies unexpectedly, she watches her tour group veer off the path into the unknown.
- In The Opposite of Fate, which is a series of essays Tan writes about her works. Some have likened it to a long conversation with Ms. Tan.
- The Valley of Amazement, Tan’s last novel, is the story of three women, connected at times with love and then by hate and by the painting The Valley of Amazement.
- She also wrote the children’s book Sagwa, the Chinese Cat (illustrated by Gretchen Schields), which was published in 1994. A mother cat tells her kittens the story of their ancestry. The family descended from Sagwa, who was famous for changing the way Siamese cats look forever. After she fell into the ink pot, and changed the wording of a harsh rule with her footprints, it was decreed by the wise magistrate (foolish until Sagwa’s assistance) that henceforth all Chinese cats should have dark faces, ears and paws. Sagwa was also made into an animated children’s television series in 2001. It was very popular on PBS Kids and often reruns. It aired for one season only, and cancelled in 2003.
And to think, her writing career was almost halted in its tracks because of her undiagnosed Lyme Disease. Her story is like so many of those suffering with this mysterious, debilitating and hard to diagnose disease. In 1999 she first began showing the symptoms. Symptoms which nearly debilitated her: anxiety, numbness, vision problems, brain lesions, hallucinations. She found she was having trouble reading, couldn’t remember what was on the page after she read it. She was having trouble writing and speaking – both of which are incredibly important for authors. She went from doctor to doctor, took test after test. She took steroids, then Prozac (which gave her nightmares), until, finally, one doctor ordered an ELISA test (which was used to screen for Lyme Disease). She read up on this disease and every symptom fit, however, some physicians still expressed doubt she had it, since she lives in San Francisco. What they didn’t consider is that she does have a house in New York state, and she does take walks in the woods there. She found a Lyme Disease specialist in San Francisco who finally diagnosed her. Once she began taking anti-biotics, her symptoms began to ease, but she will have to take these pills for life. Tan co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids, which helps uninsured children pay for treatment.
Here are some extra fun facts about Amy Tan you may not know:
- She found out later on that her mother had been married before in China, and had left behind three daughters, and the memory of her mother’s suicide. Amy got to meet her step-sisters finally.
- Her older brother and her father both died of brain tumors within six months of each other.
- In college, she had a double major of English and Linguistics. She continued in schooling and got her Master’s in Linguistics then started on her doctorate.
- She worked in the field of helping children with developmental disabilities.
- She was one of the founding members of the band the Rock Bottom Remainders, along with Dave Barry, Stephen King, Matt Groenig, Barbara Kingslover and Roy Blount, Jr. The Remainders’ first performance was in 1992 at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California. They also played at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995. They gave their last concert on June 23, 2012, at the annual conference of the American Library Association also in Anaheim, where they played their first concert. Even though the band is no longer playing gigs, they are fondly remembered by authors, teachers and librarians everywhere. Plus there’s always Youtube…
- She wrote the libretto for the opera composed by Stewart Wallace based on her book The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
- She was a free-lance business writer for several years before she started writing fiction at the age of 33.