Marlene Hawthrone was born in Annapolis, Maryland and grew up between Colorado and the Washington D.C. area. She obtained her MFA in Photography from the Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta.

Her photojournalistic style was honed as photographer and editor at the Hilltop Newspaper in Washington DC. She was also the primary photographer for the National Council of La Raza, where she documented its work towards civil rights and advocacy for Latinos in the United States.