Daniel Keyes, 1927-2014

We are saddened to report [via Locus Magazine] the passing of author Daniel Keyes. Keyes, best known for Flowers for Algernon, originally published by Harcourt Brace and later by Bantam, had a long career as a writer in comics, science fiction, and education.

Born in 1927, Keyes joined Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management after a stint in the United States Maritime Service and studying at NYU and Brooklyn College. While working as the editor of Marvel Science Stories, he began writing for Atlas Comics. By the early 1950s, Keyes was promoted to associate editor under editor-in-chief Stan Lee, and continued writing comics, specifically focusing on science fiction and horror stories. It was during this time that he had the initial idea for Flowers for Algernon, but decided to wait until he could expand the story in a more serious format.

1959 saw the publication of the “Algernon” short story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Told as a series of progress reports, the story chronicles an experimental surgery that greatly increases human intelligence. After an apparently successful test on Algernon, a laboratory mouse, the technique is performed on Charlie Gordon, a young man who cannot even spell his own name. He experiences a new life as a genius before the process reverses itself and he loses everything he has gained. Keyes won the Hugo Award for the short story in 1960, and a Nebula Award for the expanded novel in 1966. The story was later adapted into the Academy-Award-winning film Charly in 1968.

After the extraordinary success of Flowers for Algernon, Keyes went on to teach at Ohio University and was honored as a Professor Emeritus in 2000. His other books include The Fifth Sally, The Minds of Billy Milligan, Unveiling Claudia, and a memoir of his life as a writer, Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer’s Journey. He was chosen as an Author Emeritus by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2000.

Flowers for Algernon was an key example of science fiction that tackled problems of depth and emotional consequence; Keyes made a giant contribution to the discussion of science fiction as a serious art form. He will be greatly missed.

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