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40 Years of Algernon

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, June 1997)
Daniel Keyes pic
    Photo by Beth Gwinn

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Daniel Keyes is best known for "Flowers for Algernon", which won a 1960 Hugo for its original novelette version. It was expanded to the novel Flowers for Algernon (1966) and in that form tied for the Nebula Award in 1967. Later works include the quasi-SF thriller The Touch (1968; UK 1977 as The Contaminated Man), and The Fifth Sally (1980). Nonfiction works include The Minds of Billy Milligan (1982), a sequel to which has appeared in Japan as The Milligan Wars: A True-Story Sequel (1994). The sequel will be published in the US by Bantam when the film version of the first book appears from Warner, as The Crowded Room.

"Flowers for Algernon has been published in about 30 countries, and each year I'm getting new foreign translations, and deals for reprints. [It] is still in print in both hardcover and paperback, and studied in high schools all across the country. The story, the novel, the movie Charly got the Academy Award for Cliff Robertson. In the '70s, when it was made into a musical in London and on Broadway, they tried to change the ending -- nobody has ever been able to change that ending, and I'm happy for that!"

"...So I wrote the story. I called Horace Gold, and he said, 'Bring it over. I'll read it while you're here. Have a cup of coffee, read a magazine.' Horace was an agoraphobic who ran poker games Friday night to Saturday dawn in his First Avenue apartment, and his office for Galaxy was there too. I was kind of nervous, because Horace was an important editor, and that was only my fifth short story I was submitting for publication. Horace came in from the other room and said, 'Dan, this is a good story, but I'm gonna tell you how to make it a great story: Charlie does not lose his intelligence; he remains a super-genius, and he and Alice fall in love, they get married, and live happily ever after.'..."

"...I finished the novel for Doubleday, but they wanted the ending changed. I said, 'No, We'll give them back their advance.' It was rejected by five publishers over the period of a year. I was suffering, becuase I wanted the book published! But finally it appeared, and Flowers for Algernon has never gone out of print since..."

"...In both Japan and Germany, all my books have been published and never gone out of print. ...When I went to Tokyo, they drove me past the department store where I was going to go for signings. The line was wrapped around the block three times! They brought me gifts, flowers, candy, letters, and I sat there thinking, 'I feel like a rock star.'..."

© 1997 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.