Friends and family asked the same question when Cynthia Clampitt ’73 quit her corporate job to become a writer: “What will you do about benefits?” But she’s found plenty of perks in her freelance career, including travel to 37 countries on six continents. Cynthia gets more work than she can accept and jokes that she’s exchanged the illusion of security for the illusion of freedom.
A French and English double major at Westmont, she enrolled in the first England Semester and toured Greece, Israel and Italy with Professor Arthur Lynip for a month after the program ended. This trip reinforced her love for adventure.
After graduating, she took a customer service job with Baxter Laboratories in Chicago, where she grew up. “Westmont equips you to think, and I was a good problem-solver, so I got promotions,” she says. Despite her success, she wasn’t satisfied, and a management position at Kraft Foods didn’t help. “Corporate life only held my interest while there were problems,”she says. “When things were easy, I got bored. Eventually I decided I wanted something more intellectual.” While working full time, she began a graduate program in literature at Northwestern University. But the scholarly world didn’t enthrall her either.
Cynthia wanted to write, and she finally took a dramatic step to achieve this dream. Walking away from her big office and promising career, she flew to Australia. She hoped six months there would dispel the allure of corporate culture. “Australia had always interested me,” she says. “God gives you a dream because it’s the right dream for you.” She kept a lively journal, which she published in 2007 as a travel book, “Waltzing Australia.”
Back in Chicago, she lived on beans and rice while launching her new career. “I became an expert in Third World cuisine and started a column about eating well without spending money,” she says. She studied culinary history, wrote for food magazines and edited an award-winning cookbook. Her latest projects include a Latin American cookbook and a history of food. “When the Visigoths held Rome for ransom,their demands included pepper,” she says. “Columbus was looking for a route to India for spices, not gold. Food has been incredibly important during history.” Cynthia has also created a Bible study on salt, a symbol of purity. “Christians should make the world more flavorful,” she says.
She drew on her experience in Australia to create a second niche: supplying copy for high school textbooks. Beginning with a unit on Australia and the South Pacific, she has focused on language arts, history and geography and also written about business and math. One of her clients is Colonial Williamsburg. “As a freelancer, it helps to be flexible,” she says.
Travel gives her a rich resource for her writing. “I record everything I see and come back with notebooks full of information,” she says. She also takes thousands of photos to illustrate her articles and textbooks. This year alone, she’ll visit Egypt, Jordan, New Orleans and Japan.
She returns often to Australia. “Its rugged innocence appeals to me,” she says. “I love the outback and the sense of community born of hardship. Things are rough there, but the people are friendly; the landscape is beautiful, but it has its oddities. It’s wild, remote and fierce but also innocent and accessible.”
Cynthia’s glad her story has a happy ending. “Dreams come true when you pay the price and work hard,” she says. “I feel blessed.”