When Tan was 15 years old, her older brother Peter and father both died of brain tumors within a year of each other. Daisy moved Amy and her younger brother John Jr. to Switzerland, where Amy finished high school. During this period, Amy learned about her mother’s former marriage to an abusive man in China, and of their four children, including three daughters and a son who died as a toddler. In 1987 Amy traveled with Daisy to China. There, Amy met her three half-sisters.
Tan received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and linguistics from San José State University, and later did doctoral linguistics studies at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley.
She resides in Sausalito, California, with her husband, Louis DeMattei, a tax attorney whom she met on a blind date and married in 1974.
Tan was featured on The Simpsons episode “Insane Clown Poppy” on Season 12, Episode 3.