Hwee Hwee Tan was born in Singapore. During her youth she spent three years in the Netherlands. At first she studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, from which she graduated with honours. Tan also holds a Master's Degree in English Studies (1500-1660) from the University of Oxford. After winning the New York Times Fellowship in 1997 she studied creative writing at New York University. She has since received her MFA in Creative Writing at New York University. She has published various short stories before, at the age of 22, she got her first book, Foreign Bodies (1997), to print.