Flowers for Algernon | Study Guide

Daniel Keyes

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Daniel Keyes | Biography


Daniel Keyes was born on August 9, 1927, to working-class parents in Brooklyn, New York. Keyes enjoyed reading and writing from a young age but noticed that the more he learned, the less he could relate to his parents, who had very little education. They insisted that Keyes focus on his schoolwork, dreaming he would one day become a doctor. At 17, Keyes started a pre-medicine program at New York University; however, World War II was raging at the time, and Keyes worried he would be drafted into the infantry (soldiers fighting on foot). To avoid that fate, he left school and enlisted in the Merchant Marines, helping the U.S. Navy deliver troops and supplies. He later returned to school, and in 1950 he received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Brooklyn College. As he pursued his studies, Keyes sensed a growing gap between himself and his parents and began to wonder if it were really possible to make individuals more intelligent, a question he would explore in Flowers for Algernon.

Soon afterward, he landed a job at the magazine Marvel Science Stories, where he eventually became editor, and began writing for Atlas Comics, which later would become Marvel Comics. Keyes began to write stories under a pen name during this time while he experimented and learned as a writer; at Atlas, surrounded by science fiction plots, he first had the idea for a story about scientifically increasing intelligence.

Keyes then earned a teaching license and taught writing at his former high school. After taking a leave of absence from teaching to focus on his writing, he wrote the science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon." The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction published the story in its April 1959 issue, and in 1960 it won the Hugo Award—given to works of science fiction and fantasy—for Best Short Fiction of the year.

Keyes did postgraduate work at Brooklyn College, earning a master's degree in literature in 1961. He went on to teach writing at Wayne State University, and later at Ohio University. During this period, Keyes expanded "Flowers for Algernon" into a novel. He made small changes to the plot but focused mainly on adding more about Charlie's past, his relationships with Alice and Fay, and his trips to the institution for the intellectually disabled. Keyes also added third-person narration in which postoperative Charlie describes preoperative Charlie's memories, at times bringing the two men together.

Published in 1966, the novel was a joint winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year from the Science Fiction Writers of America. In 1968, Flowers for Algernon was adapted into the Oscar-winning film Charly; a made-for-TV movie of the same name was broadcast in 2000. The novel has also been adapted as a stage play, musical, and radio drama.

Keyes wrote a number of other novels and nonfiction texts, many of which focus on psychology. He died on June 15, 2014.

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