Jacob Cramer ’22 is no stranger to public service. A 2022 Yale Alumni Association Public Service Award (formerly known as the Yale-Jefferson Awards) winner, Cramer is known for his leadership in service to elders and to the fight against loneliness. In 2013, he founded Love For Our Elders, a nonprofit and frequent Yale Day of Service partner that delivers handwritten letters to elders while facilitating intergenerational connection. 

This year Cramer has ventured into the world of publishing by authoring his first picture book, "Grandma’s Letter Exchange." The book was supported with a grant from the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, which was awarded to Cramer while he was still a student at Yale. 

As a student, Cramer also served as a 2022 Eli Ambassador, taking alumni along for his journey from student to alum. While at Yale, the Cleveland native directed original plays and acting workshops as artistic director of Yale Children’s Theater and scare acted year-round at Fright Haven, Connecticut’s largest indoor haunt. He’s passionate about helping kids unleash their creativity and build confidence and aspires to create children’s TV programming and theater professionally. Oh, and he’s a huge Swiftie!

In this Q&A, we caught up with Cramer who shared insights from self-publishing his first book, how the Yale community has supported him, and his hopefulness for inspiring deeper human connections. 

Why Yale?
Growing up, so many people I admired went to Yale – writers, activists, and even Teddy Duncan from “Good Luck Charlie.” I was excited about its emphasis on the arts and hoped to delve into its creative writing courses and student-written productions.

Can you tell us about the journey of creating your debut picture book?
I’ve always wanted to inspire young kids to write letters. It’s a simple gesture that helps people of all ages express themselves, practice gratitude, and deliver joy, and I think the world needs more of it.

Jacob and this grandmotherWhen I received a grant from Slifka to honor my Jewish grandma, I got to work. I did lots of research— but unlike my undergrad career reading scholarly peer-reviewed articles, I got to sit in libraries and read amazing children’s books! I picked ones I thought might be similar in style and content, which helped form my ideas. I wrote several manuscripts and got critiques from friends, editors, and literary agents.

Because the book would be deeply tied to the nonprofit’s work, from its themes to color palette, self-publishing was a no-brainer. So l worked for months with a wonderfully talented illustrator, Angelika Scudamore, brainstorming, and sharing ideas and feedback on roughs and color illustrations (through this, I'd like to think we got the perfect drawn version of my grandma). Then I learned about book design to format the pages with text and for printing. It’s two and a half years later and I’m super excited to share Grandma’s Letter Exchange with the world.

How has your experience as a Yale alum influenced your writing and your work with Love For Our Elders?
I started writing love letters ten years ago, as a lonely middle schooler. That work has blossomed into a beautiful nonprofit called Love For Our Elders that has connected me and thousands of volunteers with elders through more than 500,000 letters.

The Yale community has always made me feel supported in this work — writing and delivering letters to senior communities with Yale friends, leading letter-writing socials with Yale Alumni Clubs, and celebrating Yale Day of Service with letter writing every year with the help of Clevelander Betsy Sullivan. Yalies have helped me feel connected to my Cleveland-based nonprofit while living in New Haven and now in Madrid. They have shown me I can continue this work and find a caring community no matter where I am.

My Yale classes influenced my writing too. Gosh, how I miss them! Playwriting with Deb Margolin showed me that writing is for the soul, and is best when it’s authentic to you. So my book is from the heart and shares my love for letter writing. Young Adult Writing with Jake Halpern encouraged me to just keep writing, even if it’s jumbled and doesn’t make sense right now. So I wrote manuscripts that will never see the light of day and made more revisions than I can count. The book is better for it.

What role did the grant from the Yale Slifka Center play in the development and publication of Grandma's Letter Exchange?
With the grant, it became much easier to hire an illustrator to make this book come to life in the way I had dreamed. I was also able to get professional edits and join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

What message or themes do you hope readers will take away from the book, especially in relation to intergenerational connection and storytelling?
I hope Grandma’s Letter Exchange gives kids a reason to write their first letter. And then second, and third. Maybe they’ll even write with Love For Our Elders— it’s a great service learning activity that can be taught in tandem with the book. I also want it to serve as a reminder of how awesome our elders are. In the book, Grandma Doris has lots of friends, is adventurous and talks exclusively in rhyme, and even builds a spaceship. She’s fun and has lived a lot, clearly. I hope her character invites young readers to view elders differently and ask questions about their own grandparents’ interests and lives.

How do you envision Grandma's Letter Exchange resonating with the Yale alumni community, and how do you hope it will contribute to fostering connections and dialogue among alumni?
When writing Grandma’s Letter Exchange, I wanted to show that a single letter might not change the whole world, but it can change someone's world. From my experience as a volunteer at Dwight Hall organizations and leading Yale Club service events, I know our community believes in service and human connection. I’d love for my book to inspire the next generation of Yalies to write letters as a means for improving the world. I’m looking forward to sharing the book with Yale Children’s Theater for read-alouds and around Yale Day of Service.

What advice would you give to a prospective student? 
Make every day an adventure (geocaching and buttery hops are a must!), try new things (that's how I found myself working year-round as a scare actor at Connecticut's largest indoor haunt), and study abroad if you can (por favor!).


Editor's Note: Jacob Cramer first shared his story with us as a student in 2022.

How would you answer? Share your responses with the YAA and they might be featured in an upcoming edition of "Getting to Know You." 

And be sure to check out all the Q&As in the series by visiting our Getting to Know You page.

You May Also Be Interested In