Who Wrote Flowers for Algernon?

Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

This lesson provides biographical information about Daniel Keyes, the author of Flowers for Algernon. The lesson traces his early life, writing career, the process of writing Flowers for Algernon, and his later life. Keyes lived from 1927-2014.

Daniel Keyes

Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon

Early Life

Daniel Keyes was born in New York City on August 9, 1927. At seventeen, he joined the United States Maritime Service and went to sea to work as a ship's purser, handling finances and administration on board oil tankers.

When Keyes returned to New York, he began attending Brooklyn College and earned a bachelor's degree in Psychology in 1950.

Getting Started as a Writer

Shortly after he graduated, Keyes began working for a magazine company called Magazine Management, under the direction of Martin Goodman. He soon became the editor of Marvel Science Stories, one of the company's magazines.

Goodman helped Keyes get a job as an associate editor of Atlas Comics. Around 1952, the editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, allowed Keyes to start specializing in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror comic books. He began submitting story ideas and as they were accepted, took on a writing role as well as an editing on for the company.

Years later, after he'd written his best-known work, Flowers for Algernon, Keyes remembered one story idea that he didn't submit for the comic book--the idea that would later become the basis for Flower for Algernon. The novel started out as a paragraph-long synopsis. Part of it read, 'The first guy in the test to raise the I.Q. from a low normal 90 to genius level ... He goes through the experience and then is thrown back to what was.' Keyes said that something told him that the story should be more than a comic book.

After Atlas Comics, Keyes also wrote for EC Comics until 1956. He wrote under his name and also under two pseudonyms: Kris Daniels and A.D. Locke.

Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon started out as a short story before Keyes expanded it to novel form. It first appeared in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Keyes then published the novel version in 1966.

Flowers for Algernon met with success following its publication. Keyes won the Hugo Award in 1959 and the Nebula Award in 1966 for the book.

Since then, it has been adapted for other media, including a 1968 film version called Charly, which garnered an Academy Award for Best Actor for Cliff Robertson.

Academia, and Later Life

Keyes taught English in New York City schools and went back to Brooklyn College for night classes, earning a Master's degree in American Literature in 1961. He became a creative writing professor at Wayne State University in Detroit and then became a professor of English and creative writing at Ohio University in 1966.

In 1988, Brooklyn College awarded Keyes its Distinguished Alumnus Medal of Honor. In 2000, Ohio University honored him as a professor emeritus.

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