Born in Oakland, California to John (a Baptist minister) and Daisy (Shanghai nurse), she was 14 when her father and elder brother died of brain tumours. With her mother and younger brother Peter, Tan moved to Montreux, Switzerland shortly afterward. She received a master's degree in linguistics at San Jose State University and her first job was as a children's speech therapist.
Tan is best known for the critically acclaimed The Joy Luck Club, a book made into a feature film. She also wrote several other books, including The Kitchen God's Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses. Her fourth and latest book is The Bonesetter's Daugther.
Tan's mother Daisy witnessed her mother committing suicide, and Amy believed that her grandmother, her mother and herself all suffered from depression. Tan currently takes Zoloft to treat her bouts of serious depression .