Marin’s Amy Tan Talks (and Illustrates) Birds in her New Book, “The Backyard Bird Chronicles”

Amy Tan is the author of acclaimed novels, including The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter. She is a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club and is on the board of American Bird Conservancy. She lives in Sausalito, California.


Amy Tan and Bird
Photo by Enmei Tan

This book beautifully combines your own illustrations, handwritten notes, and typeset text. What was it like to bring together all those elements?

Because this was originally a private journal, I had complete freedom to observe, sketch and write spontaneous squibs about what I noticed, what puzzled me, all without concerns over mistakes and my obvious naïveté about birds. The pages were smudged, riddled with coffee stains, cross-outs, bad handwriting and misshapen birds. I am now astonished to see the fun and mess contained in a beautifully designed book.

Your words and drawings are filled with love. Do you remember the first bird you fell in love with?

I was having lunch on the patio and decided to start the long process of luring a hummingbird to eat from a nectar feeder in my hand, guessing it might take a couple of months. Within minutes, the hummingbird landed and was drinking! I studied the overlapping iridescent red feathers on top of his head, the white behind his eye, the beak, his tiny scratchy toes. Like a mother swooning over her newborn, I thought he was perfect in every way.

Birding, drawing and writing all require focused attention. How has paying attention to birds these past few years impacted you?

During the pandemic, I was forced to live in the moment, with uncertainty over the future. Yet I never felt cooped up, stir-crazy or bored. I found relevance and freedom watching nature in my own backyard, seeing patterns and details. I now notice more, not just about birds, but also people, their behavior in situations, social groups and circumstances. By being curious about almost anything, I will never be bored.

Book and author info

The Backyard Bird Chronicles

The Backyard Bird Chronicles

In 2016, Amy Tan grew overwhelmed by the state of the world. In search of peace, Tan turned toward the natural world just beyond her window and, specifically, the birds visiting her yard. What began as an attempt to find solace turned into something far greater — an opportunity to savor quiet moments during a volatile time, connect to nature in a meaningful way, and imagine the intricate lives of the birds she admired.

Amy Tan will be in conversation with author and birding expert Keith Hansen at Dominican University of California’s Angelico Hall on April 23 at 7 p.m. In person and online tickets at


Somehow: Thoughts on Love

Somehow: Thoughts on Love

Anne Lamott explores the transformative power that love has in our lives. Her previous work includes the novels Hard Laughter and Rosie; and the nonfiction books Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird.

Anne Lamott will be in conversation with Barbara Lane at Sydney Goldstein Theater in SF on April 13 at 7:30 p.m. Her annual online workshop “Ticket to Write” will be on May 11 at 1 p.m. Tickets and workshop registration at

A Year of Last Things: Poems

A Year of Last Things: Poems

Michael Ondaatje, author of several books, including the Booker Prize winning novel The English Patient, returns to poetry with pieces that are sometimes witty, sometimes moving and always wise.

Michael Ondaatje will speak at Dominican University of California’s Angelico Hall on April 17 at 7 pm. Tickets at