UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Celia Karlin O’Sullivan, a Swedish graduate of the Penn State Law in University Park LL.M. class of 2018, published her first novel, Gryning Skymning Skepnad, in December 2022. The title translates to “The Shape of Dawn and Dusk,” and tells the story of a young woman lawyer landing a dream role at a prestigious law firm in Stockholm. After she experiences events she cannot explain, she finds her dream job may not be what she thought it was.
O’Sullivan is a current Ph.D. candidate studying animal law at Abo Akademi University. During the summer of 2022, O’Sullivan experienced a writer’s block with her thesis. To tap into her creativity and get her writing to flow again, she started to explore fictional writing. “I wanted to incorporate all these things I’ve learned through my research about animals and how they’re living today in a different form of writing. At that time, it was easier for me to write in that form,” O’Sullivan said.
Stephen Barnes, assistant dean of graduate and international programs, said, “Celia enrolled as a law student—but we also knew we had a global explorer, human and animal rights activist, and talented researcher in our community. And now, a novelist. Celia is truly that road less-taken life traveler.”
Front and back cover of O'Sullivan's novel.
When O’Sullivan first began, she wasn’t sure where her creative writing journey would take her. In three months, she had a finished manuscript and an interested publisher. “I had this hope that my book would be published and that it would be both thought-provoking and entertaining. It does have an activist purpose with it, but people will always have their own interpretation of what they read,” she said.
“It’s inspiring to see the different ways Penn State Law alumni achieve success,” said Victor Romero, interim dean of Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs, Maureen B. Cavanaugh Distinguished Faculty Scholar, and professor of law. “Celia’s dedication to finding her writing voice led her down a new path and now she has a published creative work to show for it,” he said.
O’Sullivan’s novel solution to solving her writer’s block has received positive responses and support from her colleagues and other academics. In addition to improving her writing process, she has found a potential route to branch out of academic circles and convey her ideas and research in animal law to a different audience. “Fiction is more easily accessible than academic articles,” she said and added, “I also realized how much I enjoy writing in this form. It’s a completely different process to writing an academic text. I think it would be a good way for people to improve their writing or to get more creative with their writing.”
Before O’Sullivan started her legal path in animal law, she was a corporate lawyer in Sweden. Then, she attended Penn State Law, where she worked as a research assistant for two professors— Jud Mathews, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law and political science, and affiliate professor at the Penn State School of International Affairs, and Tiyanjana Maluwa, H. Laddie Montague Chair in Law and professor of law.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn about a different legal system to broaden your perspective on your own country’s legal system. Comparative legal studies are beneficial to see other solutions in legal systems and other legal cultures. You can compare and scrutinize your own legal system when you return home and perhaps for the future work on improving your legal system,” said O’Sullivan.
When O’Sullivan returned to Sweden, she did not initially expect to leave the corporate law world, but she continued her own research projects and combined her interests in law and animal rights. Finding her calling in this field, she started her Ph.D. program at Abo Akademi University in Finland.
Now through her writer’s block, O’Sullivan will continue to work on her thesis. She plans to complete it by the beginning of 2025. In spring 2023, O’Sullivan will author a chapter about Sweden’s animal law policies for an international book exploring animal law. Organized by KIMEP University in Kazakhstan, this project includes academic scholars from all over the world who will write about animal law in their countries.
While her focus has transitioned back to academics, she is not finished with writing fiction. “I tried it once and I got a craving for more. I’ve already worked on a sequel and it’s well on its way,” she said.