Daniel Keyes was an American-Jewish author best known for his book “Flowers for Algernon.” Born August 9th, 1927 in New York, Keyes briefly attended New York University before joining the United States Maritime Service at the age of seventeen; he worked as the purser (person who handles money) on oil tankers. After his time in the Maritime Service, Keyes returned to New York in 1950 and received his Bachelor of Psychology from Brooklyn College. Keyes also received his English Education degree from New York University at the same time.
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Soon after graduating from college, Keyes began work as an editor of Magazine Management’s pulp magazine “Marvel Science Stories.” He began writing for “Atlas Comics” soon after becoming an editor for Magazine Management. “Atlas Comics” were known as the 1950s precursors to “Marvel Comics.”
When the pulp magazine “Marvel Science Stories” was discontinued in favor of paperback books, Keyes was offered a job as an associate editor of “Atlas Comics” under editor-in-chief, Stan Lee. After being offered his job, Keyes later wrote in his book “Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey:”
“Since my $17.25-a-month rent was almost due, I accepted what I considered a detour on my journey toward a literary career…. Because of my experience editing Marvel and because I’d sold a few science fiction stories by then, Stan allowed me to specialize in the horror, fantasy, suspense, and science fiction comic books. Naturally, I began submitting story ideas, getting freelance assignment, and supplementing my salary by writing scripts on my own time.”
One of Keyes story ideas was called “Brainstorm” that he decided not to submit to Stan Lee; this paragraph long idea would eventually become “Flowers for Algernon.” Keyes stated later in “Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey” that he felt as though “it should be more than a comic book script.”
In 1952, Daniel Keyes married Aurea Georgina Vazquez, having two children in the several years following. In April of 1959, the short story “Flowers for Algernon” was published in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.” Later, in 1966, Keyes decided to expand his short story into a novel. In 1959, Keyes was awarded the Hugo Award, an annual award given for the best science fiction or fantasy works of the year. In 1966, after Keyes expanded “Flowers for Algernon” into a full-length novel, he was awarded the Nebula Award, an award the recognizes the best science fiction and fantasy works in the United States; again for “Flowers for Algernon.”
“Flowers for Algernon” is a science fiction novel about a mentally handicapped man named Charlie Gordon with an IQ of 68 who undergoes brain surgery to vastly increase his intelligence. The surgery had been tested on animals, and one mouse named Algernon had been the most successful one, remaining smart afterwards.
As Charlie’s intelligence increases, he becomes painfully aware of the treatment he was getting from people he once thought to be his friends. He loses his job and his friends, becomes romantically involved with his former teacher, and his intelligence soars past those who preformed the surgery on him—only to have everything come crashing back down. He finds out through the professors at the university he had been attending that Algernon had died, as the surgery was not permanently successful; eventually reducing Charlie’s IQ to 70.
Charlie resolves to move away from all of the memories of the people he knew and the places he’s been; the book ending with Charlie sending a letter to his former teacher, Alice Kinnian, stating that if he lets people laugh at him, he would be happier than being aware that they do not actually like him, and he closes his letter by asking her to put flowers on Algernon’s grave for him.
Daniel Keyes was initially inspired to write “Flowers for Algernon” after arguing with his parents at a young age over what he wanted to do in his life. His parents insisted he study pre-med, but he wanted to pursue a career in writing, which led him so ponder the idea of somehow increasing peoples’ intelligence.
In 1957, while teaching English to students with special needs, he was inspired further when one of his students asked him if it would be possible to be moved to a regular class if he “worked hard and became smart.” Another student that added to the inspiration was one who was removed from regular classes and had regressed in his ability to learn. About the situation, Keyes stated, “When he came back to school, he had lost it all. He could not read. He reverted to what he had been. It was a heart-breaker.”
In 1958, Keyes was asked to write a story for “Galaxy Science Fiction” magazine, and Keyes decided to submit his short story to them. However, “Galaxy Science Fiction” magazine’s editor, Horace Gold, told Keyes to change the story so Charlie remained intelligent and married Alice Kinnian. Keyes refused this and sold his story to “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction” instead.
In 1968, “Flowers for Algernon” was adapted into a film called “Charly,” starring Cliff Robertson as Charlie. The film was very popular, reaching over $7 million in theatrical rentals the week of its release. It was eventually the sixteenth highest grossing film of 1968. In 2009, when Entertainment Weekly released its “25 Best Movie Tearjerkers Ever” list, Charly was among it.
After turning his short story into a novel in 1966, Keyes became an English and creative writing professor at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He was honored with the title of professor emeritus when he retired in 2000.
Keyes continued writing here and there, with nothing coming close to the success of “Flowers for Algernon.” In the year 2000, Keyes wrote his memoir “Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey;” in which Keyes wrote on the methods he used for writing and detailed his inspirations as well as his experiences as an author.
The “School Library Journal” stated “Part autobiography, part writers’ manual, this book is a fascinating and highly engaging look at the creative process and development of an author. Beginning with the childhood that provided him with the impetus and material to write, Keyes traces the public and private evolution of his Hugo Award-winning Flowers for Algernon as a novelette, novel, stage adaptation, cinema production, and a made-for-TV movie. He shows how successive disappointments like the transfer of the showstopping musical number Tomorrow changed the fortunes of both the stage version of Algernon and the eventual recipient of the song, Annie. This book succeeds as an insightful first-person account of the difficulties and joys of the writing life, and as one of the most useful writers’ manuals to be published in a long time.”
Keyes final book was entitled “The Asylum Prophecies.” It was published in 2009, after a thirty-year hiatus from writing. “The Asylum Prophecies” is a psychological thriller about a suicidal woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) who is the only one who can save thousands of lives from an impending terrorist attack.
Although not as successful as “Flowers for Algernon,” “The Asylum Prophecies” was widely popular, but did not stand the test of time. With the world changing and becoming more mental health aware, Keyes depiction of mental illness is now frowned upon, and the book is no longer successful.
In 2013, Keyes’ wife, Aurea passed away (there is no information detailing how). On June 15, 2014, in his home in Boca Raton, Florida, Daniel Keyes passed away at the age of 86 from complications of pneumonia. He and his wife had two daughters.
It is needless to say that “Flowers for Algernon” will forever be considered a classic. It has never gone out of print and to this date has sold over five million copies and has been translated into thirty different languages. Daniel Keyes who gave the world such a beautiful and well-written story will forever be remembered.
Works Citedhttp://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/faq.html http://www.sfwa.org/2014/06/memoriam-daniel-keyes-1927-2014/ https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/18/books/daniel-keyes-a-novelist-of-the-mind-dies-at-86.html?_r=0 https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/daniel-keyes-author-of-the-classic-book-flowers-for-algernon-dies-at-86/2014/06/ http://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/aci.html https://books.google.com/books?id=pIs9Em38dAoC&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=falsehttps://books.google.com/books?id=PDTD2hPNcjAC&pg=PA79#v=onepage&q&f=false https://web.archive.org/web/20070221170959/ http://www.slais.ubc.ca/PEOPLE/students/student-projects/C_Hill/hill_libr548f.pdf
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