Flowers for Algernon



Daniel Keyes was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1927. At the age of 17, Keyes joined the U.S. Maritime Service and worked as a ship’s purser. After leaving the Maritime Service, he attended Brooklyn College (now CUNY), where he earned a B.A. in psychology and later an M.A. in English and American literature. Keyes was a fiction editor for Marvel Science Fiction as well as an English teacher in the New York City schools, where he worked with developmentally challenged adults. The unique combination of Keyes’ interests and experiences can be seen in his award-winning novel, Flowers for Algernon.

Flowers for Algernon tells the story of a mentally handicapped man whose IQ is tripled by an experimental brain surgery. Originally published as a short story in 1959, it received tremendous acclaim, winning one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards, the Hugo, for best story of the year. Although considered science fiction because of the speculative nature of the plot—as yet, there are no surgeries capable of increasing human intelligence—Keyes’s original short story was so popular with general audiences that it was adapted for television in 1961 with the title The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon. Keyes expanded the story into a full-length novel, published in 1966, which won the Nebula Award for best novel of the year. As a novel, Flowers for Algernon has stood the test of time, never having gone out of print, and continues to be taught in schools and universities the world over. In 1968, it was adapted into a film called Charly, earning Cliff Robertson an Academy Award for his portrayal of the title character. Since then, the story has seen several other adaptations for stage and screen.

The enduring popularity of Flowers for Algernon is remarkable for a work of science fiction, and perhaps this is a testament to how the novel challenges the usual expectations of the genre. The story takes place primarily in the everyday New York of the 1960s,...

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