American Masters—Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

Air date: 05/03/2021

American Masters Presents James Redford’s Final Documentary, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, Premiering May 3 on PBS for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month


Features new interviews with Amy Tan, Kevin Kwan, Isabel Allende, Lisa Lu, Rosalind Chao, Tamlyn Tomita, Kieu Chinh, Dave Barry and Ronald Bass


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 documentary world premieres at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in February, and premieres nationwide Monday, May 3 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS Video app in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

The last completed film from director James Redford (1962-2020), American Masters—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.

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. 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.

Now in its 35th season on PBS, American Masters illuminates the lives and creative journeys of our nation’s most enduring artistic giants—those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim and 28 Emmy Awards—including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special—14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the American Masters Podcast, educational resources and more. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.

American Masters—Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir is 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.

Support for American Masters is provided by AARP, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Cheryl & Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust,  The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen & James S. Marcus, The André & Elizabeth Kertész Foundation and public television viewers.


About WNET
WNET is America’s flagship PBS station: parent company of New York’s THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, the statewide public media network in New Jersey and its news division, NJ SPOTLIGHT NEWS. Through its new ALL ARTS multi-platform initiative, its broadcast channels, three cable services (THIRTEEN PBSKids, Create and World) and online streaming sites, WNET brings quality arts, education and public affairs programming to more than five million viewers each month. WNET produces and presents a wide range of acclaimed PBS series, including Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend, and the nightly interview program Amanpour and Company. In addition, WNET produces numerous documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings, as well as multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty and climate. Through THIRTEEN Passport and WLIW Passport, station members can stream new and archival THIRTEEN, WLIW and PBS programming anytime, anywhere.



For editorial use in North America only in conjunction with the direct publicity or promotion of AMERICAN MASTERS, no other rights are granted. All rights reserved. Downloading this image constitutes agreement to these terms.

Amy Tan. Credit: John Behrens. Courtesy of KPJR Films.

Amy Tan.  Credit: Julian Johnson. 

Still from American Masters —Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir. John Behrens. Courtesy of KPJR Films.

Still from American Masters —Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

John Behrens. Courtesy of KPJR Films.

Amy Tan and her mother. Courtesy of Jim McHugh

Amy Tan and family. Courtesy of Amy Tam

Amy Tan as a little girl with her mom. Courtesy of Amy Tan

Still from American Masters —Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir

courtesy of KPJR Films (this is a screenshot from the film, DP is John Behrens)

James Redford Credit: The Redford Center/Alan Silfen.