On Monday, Reyna Gentin ’88 LAW ’91, who published her first novel in November 2018, returned to the Yale Law School to discuss her life trajectory — from a career in law to a career in creative writing.
Gentin explained to the audience Monday that she started her career by spending three years practicing as a juvenile rights attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York.
“I loved it there,” Gentin said. “I thought it was a great job — it definitely had an ‘in the trenches’ kind of feel to it.”
Gentin left the position after she was set to be transferred to the office in the Bronx. She transitioned to a nonprofit attorney’s office where she was a criminal appellate attorney for 18 years.
But Gentin hit a wall with her job. It was not that she was losing cases, she explained — she just could not get into the heads of some of the people she had to defend in murder and rape cases. She quit her job after a “brutal” case with a child victim.
After leaving the legal world “without any sense” of what she would do next, Gentin began taking classes at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College.
“Writing a book to me was like as likely as walking on the moon,” she said. “It was not really so much in the back of my mind.”
Still, Gentin said her time as an appellate attorney prepared her for the job in unexpected ways. Writing appellate briefs required her to channel her creativity to make people and situations appear better than they might otherwise look.
Gentin started out writing short stories and personal essays for publication. In November 2018, she published her first book, “Unreasonable Doubts.” The novel follows the story of a young but jaded Yale Law School graduate working at the New York public defender office as she attempts to navigate a case and confront many moral dilemmas.
Much of the book is inspired by Gentin’s life, which she claimed helped her make her writing credible. She said that both her mother and her husband resemble characters in the novel.
Gentin described the writing process as a “cathartic experience” and said that her first draft was much “angrier.” She explained that there was initially a significant amount of hedging in her writing. She said this originated from the fact that she was not sure if she had any clients she believed were innocent. Still, she added that she did have clients that she thought were not guilty of what they had been accused.
“Just hearing people talk about the characters in the book and what they would think is kind of mind-blowing,” Gentin said.
Alexandra Bauman | firstname.lastname@example.org