Food Writer & Literary Memoirist
James Beard Award for Excellence
Travels from: Hartford, CT

“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.” —Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

Elissa Altman is an award-winning author of literary memoir, essay, and food narrative, who writes from the place where sustenance, the natural world, the power of the human spirit, and the promise of renewal converge. Born and raised in New York City in the 1970s, Elissa Altman grew up a voracious reader and writer, a guitarist from the age of four trained under Eddie Simon, graduated from Boston University, and attended Cambridge University and the Institute for Culinary Education. A longtime, award-winning executive editor for major publishing houses including Clarkson Potter, Rodale Books, and HarperCollins, she acquired and edited sixteen New York Times bestsellers before devoting herself to writing full-time, and launching her James Beard Award-winning narrative food blog, Poor Man’s Feast, in 2008, which is now a popular Substack.

Her first book, Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking, was published in 2013 and declared by the New York Times Book Review “the finest food memoir of recent years.” Its critically-acclaimed prequel, Treyf: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw, was published in 2016. Motherland: A Memoir of Love, Loathing, and Longing, was published in hardcover in 2019, and released as paperback in 2020, and was a 2020 Lambda Award finalist. The audio edition, produced and directed by Scott Sherratt, was released with the author narrating in 2019. Altman’s new book, On Permission — a meditation on creativity and story ownership based on Altman’s popular memoir workshops at Fine Arts Work Center and Maine Writers and Publishers — is coming from Godine in 2024. Her essays have appeared in publications including Orion, Lion’s Roar, and O: The Oprah Magazine to LitHub, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, where her column, Feeding My Mother, ran for a year. A member of The Environmental Storytelling Studio at Brown University, Altman lives in New England

Elissa's Featured Titles


Ballantine Books |

“Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord.”—People
“A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women.”—O: The Oprah Magazine 

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter.

Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.

Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.

“Vibrating with emotion, this deeply honest account strikes a chord.”—People

“A wry and moving meditation on aging and the different kinds of love between women.”—O: The Oprah Magazine

TREYF: My Life as an Unorthodox Outlaw

Berkley |

From the Washington Post columnist and James Beard Award-winning author of Poor Man’s Feast comes a story of seeking truth, acceptance, and self in a world of contradiction…

Treyf: According to Leviticus, unkosher and prohibited, like lobster, shrimp, pork, fish without scales, the mixing of meat and dairy. Also, imperfect, intolerable, offensive, undesirable, unclean, improper, broken, forbidden, illicit.

Fans of Augusten Burroughs and Jo Ann Beard will enjoy this kaleidoscopic, universal memoir in which Elissa Altman explores the tradition, religion, family expectations, and the forbidden that were the fixed points in her Queens, New York, childhood. Every part of Altman’s youth was laced with contradiction and hope, betrayal and the yearning for acceptance: synagogue on Saturday and Chinese pork ribs on Sunday; bat mitzvahs followed by shrimp-in-lobster-sauce luncheons; her old-country grandparents, whose kindness and love were tied to unspoken rage, and her bell-bottomed neighbors, whose adoring affection hid dark secrets.

While the suburban promise of The Brady Bunch blared on television, Altman searched for peace and meaning in a world teeming with faith, violence, sex, and paradox. Spanning from 1940s wartime Brooklyn to 1970s Queens to present-day rural New England, Treyf captures the collision of youthful cravings and grown-up identities. It is a vivid tale of what it means to come to yourself both in spite and in honor to your past.

“A brave and generous memoir, a lucid love letter to her own family’s history that … does the work of a great memoir in piercing the reader’s separateness and reminding us that we are not alone. I love this book.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Signal Fires and Inheritance

“What makes Treyf so original is the author’s wry humor and her gimlet eye. She is expert at evoking time, place and social status. . . . her prose shines. . .”—Wall Street Journal

Poor Man’s Feast

Berkley |

Based on the James Beard Award-Winning Blog

Born and raised in New York to a food-phobic mother and a food-fanatical father, Elissa learned early on that fancy is always best. After a childhood spent dining at fine establishments, from Le Pavillon to La Grenouille, she devoted her life to all things gastronomical. She served rare game birds at elaborate dinner parties in an apartment so tiny that the guests couldn’t turn around and bought eight timbale molds while working at Dean & DeLuca, just to make her food tall.

Then, Elissa met and fell in love with Susan—a frugal, small-town Connecticut Yankee with a devotion to simple living—and it changed her relationship with food, and the people who taught her about it, forever.

Told with tender and often hilarious honesty, and filled with twenty-six delicious recipes, Poor Man’s Feast is a tale of finding sustenance and peace in a world of excess and inauthenticity, demonstrating how all our stories are inextricably bound up with how we feed ourselves and those we love.

“Sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious, this is one of the finest food memoirs of recent years.”—The New York Times Book Review


Elissa Altman | Talks and Visits

Elissa Altman speaks regularly both solo and in conversation with other authors, artists, and thinkers; her partners have included Anne Lamott, Michael Cunningham, Dani Shapiro, Sue Miller, Madhur Jaffrey, and others. Altman’s talks intersect subjects ranging from permission to write and create, and the moral obligation to care for our elders (even when they drive us crazy), to human spirituality, and finding sustenance everywhere from the environment to the table. Altman also speaks on issues connected to queerness and religion, addiction, resilience, and how art-making is kryptonite for silence and shame.


TESS: The Environmental Storytelling Studio

On marrying scholarship with literary storytelling


On Permission and Questions of Story Ownership: Is It Your Right to Write?

Fine Arts Work Center, 2022 – An exploration of the intersection of fear, creativity, and overcoming creative paralysis


On Jewish Feminism, Queerness, and the American Jewish Experience

College of William and Mary, 2021-2022 – A talk about the intersection of feminism, queerness, and the American Jewish experience, as seen through lenses of Treyf and Motherland


On Sustenance and Feeding the Soul

San Miguel de Allende Literary Festival: 2022 – A conversation on how sustenance comes in all forms, from family stories and myths to the table, and beyond.


On Motherland - Humor, Addiction, and Healing from Family Trauma


Creativity, mental illness, and writing complicated mothers


Writing Your Story, Feeding Your Soul: Cultivating Creativity and Finding Sustenance Through Storytelling


Healing the Epidemic of Isolation for Senior Citizens by Bringing Them to the Table


Permission to Write One's Story: The Art & Craft of Memoir

Healing the Epidemic of Isolation for Senior Citizens | Elissa Altman | TEDxUniversityofNevada

On Permission and Questions of Story Ownership: Is It Your Right to Write?

Anne Lamott and Elissa Altman in Conversation

Elissa’s Substack

Podcasts, Talks and Other Media

Subscribe to Elissa’s Newsletter

Brown University – Environmental Storytelling Studio

Writing and the Permission to Succeed

Residential Memoir Workshop at Castle Hill-Truro Center for the Arts

Honors, Awards & Recognition

Awarded 2023 Corsicana Artists and Writer Residency
Awarded 2023 Barnswallow Writer-in-Residence
Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Motherland, 2020
Connecticut Book Award Finalist for Motherland, 2020
Maine Literary Award Finalist for Motherland, 2020
Anthologized in Best Food Writing, 2011-2017
Winner, James Beard Award, 2016
James Beard Award Finalist, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016
Frank McCourt Memoir Prize, Finalist, Southampton Review, 2016
Boston University, Distinguished Alumni Award, 2011

Media Kit

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