Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Mass. When Hawthorne was four years old, his father died. Years later, with financial help from his maternal relatives who recognized his literary talent, Hawthorne was able to enroll in Bowdoin College. Among his classmates were the important literary and political figures Horatio Bridge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Franklin Pierce. These friends supplied Hawthorne with employment during the early years after graduation while Hawthorne was still establishing himself as a legitimate author. Hawthorne's first novel, Fanshawe, which he self-published in 1928, wasn't quite the success that he had hoped it would be. Not willing to give up, Hawthorne began writing stories for Twice-Told Tales. These stories established Hawthorne as a leading writer. In 1842, Hawthorne moved to Concord, Mass., where he wrote a number of tales, including "Rappaccini's Daughter" and "Young Goodman Brown," that were later published as Mosses from an Old Manse. The overall theme of Hawthorne's novels was a deep concern with ethical problems of sin, punishment, and atonement. No one novel demonstrated that more vividly than The Scarlet Letter. This tale about the adulterous Puritan Hester Prynne is regarded as Hawthorne's best work and is a classic of American literature. Other famous novels written by Hawthorne include The House of Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance. In 1852, Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of his college friend Franklin Pierce. After Pierce was elected as President of the United States, he rewarded Hawthorne with the Consulship at Liverpool, England. Hawthorne died in his sleep on May 19, 1864, while on a trip with Franklin Pierce.
Mary Oliver was born in Maple Heights, Ohio on September 10, 1935. She attended Ohio State University and Vassar College, but did not receive a degree. Her first collection of poems, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Her other works include White Pine, West Wind, Why I Wake Early, Thirst, Red Bird, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, A Thousand Mornings, and Blue Horses: Poems. She has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light, and the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems. Her books of prose include A Poetry Handbook, Blue Pastures, Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse, and Long Life: Essays and Other Writings. She held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College from 1995 to 2001.