Daniel Keyes, author of Flowers for Algernon, the literary work that became a classic staple in classrooms and which explores the human mind through the treatment of a mentally disabled man whose intelligence is temporarily heightened then tragically relapses resulting in death, died on June 15 of complications from pneumonia in his South Florida home. He was 86.
His daughter Leslie Keyes told the Associated Press that her father wrote until the day he died; using a yellow pad he kept by his bedside.
Keyes’ novel Flowers for Algernon has sold over 5 million copies, according to the AP. First published as a short story in 1959, and later as a novel, “Algernon” takes the reader on an emotional journey through a series of journal entries penned by the story’s protagonist Charlie, 32, who exhibits a low IQ and who holds a menial job.
Charlie exhibits a strong desire to become intelligent and through his participation in a series of scientific experiments, similar to those administered in a mouse named Algernon, experiences the tripling of his IQ, notes the AP. As Charlie’s intelligence increases, so do the quality of his journal entries directly correlate with this sudden and superb surge in his intellect.
The entries are at first riddled with spelling and grammatical errors strewn throughout poor sentence structure before escalating to highly-polished prose. Along with his elevated intellect, Charlie develops great impatience and disdain towards mediocrity, in an emotional twist.
Just as the height of Charlie’s brainpower is achieved, the mouse Algernon’s mental progress goes into reverse and he dies, foreshadowing what lies ahead for Charlie.
Keyes was born on August 9, 1927, in Brooklyn, NY. His parents had wanted him to become a doctor, but he always wanted to be a writer. He enrolled in New York University’s premedical program but later became a public school teacher, according to the AP.
That is where he gained the inspiration which led him to write Flowers for Algernon. Keyes wrote in his also-famous 2000 autobiography Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey that a developmentally disabled boy at the school in which he taught, approached him and said, “Mr. Keyes, I want to be smart,” writes the AP.
“Keyes’ short story won a Hugo Award for best short fiction and his novel won a Nebula Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America,” the AP notes. In 1968 a film,”Charly,” was created based on the novel starring actor Cliff Robertson, who went on to achieve an Academy Award for his performance.