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Arts & Culture

AMERICAN MASTERS: Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

Amy Tan
Courtesy of Julian Johnson
Amy Tan

Stream or tune in Monday, May 3, 2021 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Premiering May 3 on PBS for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Writer Amy Tan’s hit debut novel, “The Joy Luck Club” (1989), catapulted her to commercial and critical success, spending over 40 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. With the 1993 blockbuster film adaption that followed, which was selected for the National Film Registry in 2020, as well as additional bestselling novels, librettos, short stories and memoirs, Tan firmly established herself as one of the most prominent and respected literary voices working today.

AMERICAN MASTERS “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” is an intimate portrait of the groundbreaking author that interweaves archival imagery, including home movies and personal photographs, animation and original interviews to tell the inspiring story of Tan’s life and career.

The last completed film from director James Redford (1962-2020), “Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir” features new interviews with Tan; fellow writers Kevin Kwan, Isabel Allende, Dave Barry and Ronald Bass; actors from “The Joy Luck Club” including Lisa Lu, Rosalind Chao, Tamlyn Tomita and Kieu Chinh; friends and family.

Tan opens up to Redford with remarkable frankness about traumas she’s faced in her life and how her writing has helped her heal.

The film traces her meteoric rise from the point when she picked up fiction writing as a mental break from her heavy freelance business writing schedule and was offered three book deals after completing only three short stories.

James Redford
Courtesy of PBS /AMERICAN MASTERS
James Redford

Born to Chinese immigrant parents in Oakland, California in 1952, it would be decades before Tan would come to fully understand how her mother’s battle with suicidal tendencies was rooted in a legacy of suffering common to women who survived the ancient Chinese tradition of concubinage.

Amy Tan and her mother (undated photo)
Courtesy of Jim McHugh
Amy Tan and her mother (undated photo)

However, this legacy provides Tan an inexhaustible well of creative inspiration, and her work has made her a global icon for Asian Americans. Tan’s other bestselling novels include “The Kitchen God’s Wife,” “The Hundred Secret Senses,” “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” “Saving Fish from Drowning” and “The Valley of Amazement,” and her work has been translated into 35 languages.

Featuring footage of her performing as the lead singer of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band comprised of bestselling authors including Stephen King, Scott Turow and Barry, as well as a look at her recent explorations in nature journal sketching, the film offers an inside look at a brave artist whose humanity infuses all of her work.

Amy Tan's personal photographs
Courtesy of KPJR Films
Amy Tan's personal photographs

Watch On Your Schedule:

This film is available for streaming on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video App, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast.

Extend your viewing window with KPBS Passport, video streaming for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Amy Tan and family. (undated photo)
Courtesy of Amy Tan
Amy Tan and family. (undated photo)

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Join The Discussion:

Amy Tan is on Facebook. Follow @AmyTan on Twitter.

AMERICAN MASTERS is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @PBSAmerMasters on Twitter. #AmericanMastersPBS

Amy Tan
Courtesy of KPJR Films
Amy Tan

Credits:

A production of KJPR Films in association with AMERICAN MASTERS Pictures. Director: James Redford. Produced by Karen Pritzker. Producer: Cassandra Jabola. Executive Producer: Michael Kantor.