Meet the New AHA Staff Member: Sharon McGill

Meet the American Humanist Association’s new Graphic Designer, Sharon McGill! What is your educational and work background?

After I graduated from Ball State University in Indiana with degrees in fine arts and English, I moved to San Francisco where I worked as a designer in publications and marketing. It took only a few years for the serious wanderlust to settle in before I quit my corporate gig to travel. I went to Guatemala, where my mother is from, and then spent a summer in a VW camper visiting National Parks all over the US before finally returning to school to complete an MFA in creative writing at Penn State.

My husband then took his turn at graduate school at the University of Denver. We lived in Colorado for ten years, during which time I returned to corporate graphic design and publishing as well as illustrating books and writing fiction. Then last year, my husband landed his dream job at the Library of Congress, which prompted yet another (and hopefully final!) cross-country move here to Washington, DC. How did you first learn about humanism?

Honestly, it might have been from Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. I read those novels as an adult years ago and was amazed that a series of children’s books could present such a brilliantly scathing critique of religion. After reading about Pullman’s motives, I learned he wrote these as a secular humanist response to C.S. Lewis’s work. This got me extremely interested in humanism, and the more I learned, the more I realized it aligned exactly with many of my personal philosophies. Did you grow up in a traditional religious faith? How did it impact you?

My parents are both Catholic but not deeply religious, so as a kid I attended church and Sunday school more out of custom than belief on their part. However, I was a devout child—even went to church alone when my parents stopped attending. But the older I got, the more frustrated I grew with Catholicism—its treatment of women, its fiercely anti-abortion stance, and its hostility to science. By my late teens and early twenties, I identified as agnostic. It took a few more years before I realized I was atheist and a few more before I identified as humanist. What interested you most about working for the American Humanist Association?

Most of my design career has been working for large companies or groups I have little personal interest in, which always left me jaded and miserable. Washington, DC, is home to so many advocacy groups and nonprofits, so I decided to steer in that direction to find an employer doing work I could believe in. Plus, I knew the AHA would be full of smart people as passionate as I am about progressive values and social justice issues—and it is! What book has influenced you the most?

I first read 1984 by George Orwell when I was fifteen. It wasn’t for a class—the paperback had simply been lying around the house for years, so I finally picked it up. It hooked me hard with that chilling first line: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” I think I read it in a day, and I distinctly remember sitting on my bed, stunned, after finishing. It transformed everything I understood about language, thought, and power, and changed the way I see the world. I reread it a few years ago, and it blew me away all over again. If you could have dinner with any three people in the world (living or dead), who would they be and why?

This is the toughest question! I’ll keep it simple and pick the first that come to mind: David Bowie, who I always admired for being such an innovative artist and thinker his whole life; Barack Obama because he seems like such an intellectually curious person and genuinely nice guy; and Frida Kahlo, one of my longtime favorite artists.