English Professor Claudia Zuluaga’s debut novel, Fort Starlight, is hailed by Publisher’s Weekly as “absorbingly, expertly written.” Set in the swampy wetlands of south Florida, the novel explores the unexpected ebb and flow of people’s lives when their dreams and expectations are thwarted. Due to sudden financial difficulties, the protagonist finds herself without a car, unemployed, and without the support of friends or family in a half-built house and a town where construction has been suspended. Without resources and all the elements with which we define ourselves, Ida is forced to redefine herself and discover the friendship and community of neighbors who are also living in the half-built, half-real development.
“It’s a book about childhood neglect, inherited beliefs of inadequacy and not feeling as if you are as good as other people. But because she has to survive, she discovers what she is made of and becomes brave,” said Zuluaga. Despite Ida’s seven mile walk to her job at a supermarket she eventually gets a job managing the supermarket’s bakery and finds solace in her neighborhood community.
“The book asks questions, ‘What does it take to build a community? Do you need infrastructure, do you need services, or do you just need people who are trying and helping each other people? The town never fully develops, but the people do—they form relationships, develop, and people move forward, even if the town does not.”
Zuluaga moved to Florida from White Plains, NY when she was 16 years old. She recalled the challenging feeling of isolation and the despairing adolescent sense of limitation based on physical location.
“It’s a young person’s folly to think that if you can get physically away from wherever you are, your life will come together,” said Zuluaga.
Zuluaga, who teaches full time at John Jay, said she began writing this book in 2004 and was interested in providing physical limitations for her character and seeing what that character would do with them, “What is the human spirit really made of--she is distraught, she is psychologically in a very bad state, yet she strategizes, and she figures it out.”
Claudia Zuluaga received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College has been a faculty member at John Jay College since 2003. Claudia teaches composition and creative writing courses and is the Chief Reader of the CUNY Assessment Test in Writing (CATW). When she is not teaching, she is writing fiction, and her short stories have been published in several journals.