Scott James ’84 and Jerry Cain

Alumni, Arts and Media


 

Published:

August 19, 2015
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communications
 

Scott James ’84 and Jerry Cain

Alumni, Arts and Media


 

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Writer and Veteran Journalist
Lecturer in Computer Science and Facebook Platform Engineer

Breaking through the Noise 

Veteran journalist and fiction author, Scott James ’84, gets asked all the time by writers: “How do I make sure my book is a hit?”

“Today, with the Internet, everyone can publish their work,” said James. “That’s an incredible empowerment for writers, but it also presents a downside. There’s a lot of noise out there. As writers we have to think about how to break through the noise.”

In 2009, before people watched hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube every day—when YouTube was just in its infancy—James produced a series of videos to promote his debut novel, SoMa (published under the pseudonym Kemble Scott).

His ingenuity paid off. SoMa became a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller in spring 2007 and finalist for the national Lambda Literary prize for debut fiction

Just two years later, he published his second novel, The Sower, as a digital book. “I got a phone call out of nowhere from an e-company. They were looking for their first book to put on ‘their shelf’ for the site’s premier,” said James, whose book The Sower became the first novel sold by social publisher Scribd.com. His decision to release the first edition exclusively as an e-book received so much media attention that it led to an immediate book deal.

Today James is not just enjoying his own success, he is also supporting the next generation of writers trying to navigate this world. He and his husband, Jerry Cain, a lecturer in Stanford University’s Department of Computer Science, underwrote a writing center, Castro Writers’ Cooperative, in San Francisco, a shared co-working space for “writers of all stripes.”

At Adelphi, they established the Jerry Cain and Scott James Creative Writing and Social Media Fellowship. Thanks to a generous gift from James and Cain, an emerging literary professional enrolled in Adelphi’s M.F.A. program will receive $20,000 toward tuition and a $10,000 stipend to initiate and play a central role in the M.F.A. program’s social media projects for each of the two years the student is in the program.

“When Jerry and I were students, both of us came from modest means. Had we not received scholarships, fellowships and financial support, we would not have the educations we do today,” said James.

The fellowship they established at Adelphi combines both of their careers in different ways. Cain, a technologist and educator who was named to Business Insider’s list of “The Best Professors at Stanford University” in 2013, has been teaching for more than 17 years.

In addition to being a lecturer, he is also the engineer who was responsible for implementing the transformative Facebook “Like” button that has connected Facebook users with the entire Internet.

“Mark Zuckerberg had conceived of the idea of building a ‘Like’ button that could be engineered and placed on people’s websites, like The Huffington Post, Adelphi.edu, or what have you,” he said. When Facebook decided to move ahead with this technology, Cain was the engineer in charge. “It was only three months into the implementation of it that I realized just how big it was going to be.” Fast forward to 2015 and that “Like” button is rendered billions of times by Facebook users every day.

“Our careers and lives mix writing, education, social media, and technology,” said James. “So we’re thrilled to see Adelphi bringing the brilliant work of its M.F.A. students to the world via social media. It’s innovative and smart.”

James, who has also served as a contributing columnist covering the San Francisco Bay Area for the New York Times and The Bay Citizen, got his start in writing as a student at Adelphi.

He transferred from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst to Adelphi, where he realized he would have better access to the opportunities and support system he would need to pursue a career in writing.

At Adelphi, he was grateful to learn in small, intimate classes that allowed for feedback on his work from “fantastic” professors, many of whom he recalled were adjuncts working for the New York Times as reporters and writers. Adelphi, just a train ride away from the media capital of the world, gave him access to great internships as well. In fact, he was the very first intern at NBC’s Today show.

On campus, working for The Delphian, he gained invaluable experience that prepared him for Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

“At that time Columbia did not, as a general rule, matriculate people right out of undergraduate school. They liked you to go out into the world, work at a newspaper, show you had some grit, and were really interested in this profession,” he said. “I was one of only a handful of people who were admitted right out of undergrad school. A lot of that had to do with my work at The Delphian. I already had a clip file that others needed to go out into the world and work for a small town newspaper to get for a year before they could apply.”

After earning his graduate degree from Columbia, he set out on a career in television news, for which he earned three Emmy Awards, before moving to San Francisco in 1997 and beginning a career in fiction writing.

Living and working 3,000 miles away from the University’s Garden City campus, James still remembers his beginnings at Adelphi well. In fact he credits his experience at the University with helping him launch his career.

“The switch was flipped for me at Adelphi,” he said. “While working on The Delphian, I wrote a story that was somewhat controversial. When my story became a part of the conversation…that was a turning point for me. It hit me that ‘Wow—writing can really effect change, it can really make a difference.’ It took that moment for me to see the power of the pen.”

 
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communications