Nathaniel Hawthorne knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. As a teenager, his mother and uncle planned to send him to the medical school at Bowdoin College, a development to which he vocally rebelled. He insisted on his plans to be an author.
Hawthorne's family name was actually "Hathorne." Hawthorne added the "w" to distance himself from ancestor John Hathorne, one of the most prominent judges in the Salem Witch Trials. Despite his initial objections, Hawthorne did end up attending Bowdoin College, though he did not attend the medical school. He had no particular area of focus in his study and graduated in 1825.
Hawthorne's first literary success, "Twice-Told Tales," was published 12 years after his graduation from college. He was a member of the Transcendentalist movement, and participated in the experimental Brook Farm, a utopian commune modeled on socialist concepts.
After being married, Hawthorne and his wife rented their first home from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Hawthorne's inspiration for writing "The Scarlet Letter" came from finding an old, worn letter "A" patch in the attic of his mother's home after her death. He was close friends with Herman Melville, and Melville dedicated "Moby Dick" to him.