Cover image for Algernon, Charlie and I : a writer's journey : plus the complete original short novelette version of Flowers for Algernon
Algernon, Charlie and I : a writer's journey : plus the complete original short novelette version of Flowers for Algernon
Keyes, Daniel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boca Raton, FL : Challcrest Press Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
223 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Title:
Flowers for Algernon.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3561.E769 Z46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3561.E769 Z46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In the short novelette, "Flowers for Algernon," and in the novel version that followed, author Daniel Keyes created an unlikely duo that has captured the hearts and minds of readers around the world. It is the classic story--part of which has now come true--of an experiment to increase intelligence, in which researchers first transform a laboratory mouse named Algernon into a genius. Charlie Gordon, who tells them, "I want to be smart," eagerly volunteers to follow in Algernon's four-legged footsteps through the maze of acquiring knowledge and learning about life.

Author Notes

Daniel Keyes was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 9, 1927. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1950 and a master's degree in English literature in 1961 from Brooklyn College. He was an editor for pulp fiction magazines, taught English in New York City public schools, and was an English and creative writing professor at Wayne State University and Ohio University.

In 1959, his novella Flowers for Algernon was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and won the Hugo Award for best short fiction in 1960. By 1966 he had expanded the story into a novel with the same title, which tied for the Nebula Award for best novel that year. The novel was adapted as a stage play, developed as a dramatic musical, and adapted into a movie entitled Charly for which Cliff Robertson won the Academy Award for best actor.

During his lifetime, he wrote several more novels including The Touch, The Fifth Sally, and Until Death. His three nonfiction books include The Minds of Billy Milligan, The Milligan Wars: A True-Story Sequel, and Unveiling Claudia. He also wrote a memoir entitled Algernon, Charlie and I. He died from complications of pneumonia on June 15, 2014 at the age of 86.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

School Library Journal Review

YA-Part autobiography, part writers' manual, this book is a fascinating and highly engaging look at the creative process and development of an author. Beginning with the childhood that provided him with the impetus and material to write, Keyes traces the public and private evolution of his Hugo Award-winning Flowers for Algernon as a novelette, novel, stage adaptation, cinema production, and a made-for-TV movie. He shows how successive drafts enrich a story, and how disappointments like the transfer of the showstopping musical number Tomorrow changed the fortunes of both the stage version of Algernon and the eventual recipient of the song, Annie. This book succeeds as an insightful first-person account of the difficulties and joys of the writing life, and as one of the most useful writers' manuals to be published in a long time.-Sheryl Fowler, Chantilly Regional Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



MY WRITING CELLAR I NEVER THOUGHT it would happen to me. When I was very young and very nearsighted-20/400 vision, everything blurred without my eyeglasses-I believed that someday I'd go blind. So I planned ahead. I strove to be neat, a place for everything and everything in its place. I blindfolded myself and practiced retrieving things without seeing, and I was proud that I could find anything quickly in the dark. I didn't go blind. In fact, with eyeglasses my vision is excellent. I can still put my hands on most things I possess. Not because I remember where I put them, but because I take the time to put them away carefully, in logical places. I just have to remember where they belong. What's happening to me is something I never considered. I start out to do something, go somewhere, walk into another room to get something, but then I have to pause. What am I looking for? Then it quickly clicks into place. It's momentary but frightening. And I think of Charlie Gordon at the end of Flowers for Algernon, saying, "I remember I did something but I don't remember what." Why am I thinking of the fictional character I created more than forty years ago? I try to put him out of my mind, but he won't let me. Charlie is haunting me, and I've got to find out why. I've decided the only way I can put him to rest is to go back through the maze of time, search for his origins, and exorcise the ghosts of memories past. Perhaps, along the way, I'll also learn when, how, and why I became a writer. Getting started is the hardest thing. I tell myself, you've got the material. You don't have to make it up-just remember it, shape it. And you don't have to create a fictional narrator's voice the way you did for the story and then the novel. This is you, writing about writing, and remembering the secrets of your own life that became the life of Charlie Gordon. The opening of the story echoes in my mind: "Dr. Strauss says I shud rite down what I think and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont know why but he says its importint so they will see if they will use me. I hope they use me. Miss Kinnian says maybe they can make me smart. I want to be smart. My name is Charlie Gordon..." Although the original novelette begins with those words, that's not how it all started. Nor are his final words about putting " the bak yard" the end of his story. I remember clearly where I was the day the ideas that sparked the story first occurred to me. One crisp April morning in 1945, I climbed the steps to the elevated platform of the Sutter Avenue BMT station in Brownsville, Brooklyn. I'd have a ten- or fifteen-minute wait for the train that would take me to Manhattan, where I would change for the local to the Washington Square branch of New York University. I recall wondering where I would get the money for the fall semester. My freshman year had used up most of the savings I'd accumulated by working at several jobs, but there wouldn't be enough left to pay for three more years at NYU. As I took the nickel fare out of my pocket and glanced at it, I remembered my father Willie once admitting to me that when he had been looking for work during the Great Depression, he would walk the ten miles from our two-room apartment, through Brooklyn, and across the Manhattan Bridge each morning and back home each night to save two nickels. Often, Dad would leave while it was still dark before I awoke, but sometimes I would be up early enough to catch a glimpse of him at the kitchen table, dipping a roll into his coffee. That was his breakfast. For me there was always hot cereal, and sometimes an egg. Watching him stare into space, I assumed his mind was blank. Now, I realize he was trying to figure out ways to pay our debts. Then he would get up from the table, pat me on the head, tell me to be good in school and study hard. Back then, I thought he was going to his job. I didn't learn until much later that he was ashamed of being out of work. Maybe this nickel in my hand was one of those he saved. I dropped it into the slot and pushed through the turnstile. Someday, perhaps I'd retrace his footsteps, walking from Brownsville to Manhattan, to know what it had been like for him. I thought about it, but I never did it. I think of experiences and images like these as being stored in the root cellar of my mind, hibernating in the dark until they are ready for stories. Most writers have their own metaphors for stored-away scraps and memories. William Faulkner called his writing place a workshop and referred to his mental storage place as a lumber room, to which he'd go when he needed odds and ends for the fiction he was building. My mental storage place was in a part of our landlord's cellar, near the coal bin, in the space under the stairs which he allowed my parents to use for storage. Once, when I was big enough to climb down the cellar stairs, I discovered that's where my parents hid my old toys. I see my brown teddy bear and stuffed giraffe, and Tinkertoy, and Erector set, and tricycle, and roller skates and childhood books-some of them coloring books with line drawings still to fill in with crayons. For me it solved a mystery of toys that vanished when I'd grown tired of them, and others that reappeared in their place. Even now, I can smell the dank air and the odor of coal in the nearby bin beside the furnace. I see the steel shaft from the coal truck inserted through the cellar window and then, almost immediately, I hear coal clattering down the slide into the coal bin. Our landlord, Mr. Pincus, opens the cast-iron door of the furnace, and stokes it with a poker. I smell wet coal as he shovels it in, and feel heat from the blaze. Somewhere between the coal bin and the furnace-in the root cellar of my mind-ideas, images, scenes, and dreams wait in the dark until I need them. Remembering my childhood toy hiding place, as I waited for the train, I thought of my mother and father. I mused over the coincidence that both of their parents-unknown to each other-had made their way across Europe to Canada to New York City. There, Betty and Willie met for the first time. They soon married and had me, their first child, in 1927: the year Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris, and Al Jolson played the Jazz Singer in the first talking movie. During those years of hope and excess that later became known as the Jazz Age, my parents, like many other new Americans, went to parties, and danced the Charleston at speakeasies where they could be served illegal gin. I often wonder what happened to the sepia photograph of my mother, with her bobbed hair and sad dark eyes. I loved to hear her sing popular songs from two-cent lyric sheets and, sometimes, I would sing along with her, our favorite, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." As a boy, in Quebec, Willie had worked for trappers, and learned to speak English, French, Russian, and enough Canadian Indian phrases to trade furs. Although he and my mother had little formal schooling, it became clear to me early in childhood that they respected education, and demanded that I excel in school. Yet, in my adolescence, I discovered the more I read and learned, the less I could communicate with them. I was losing them-drifting away into my world of books and stories. Ever since I was a child, they had decided I would become a doctor. When I asked why, my father answered, "Because a doctor is like God. He cures people and saves lives." My mother added, "When you were a baby, you had an infected mastoid and double pneumonia. A wonderful doctor saved your life." My father said, "We want you to cure people and save lives." I accepted their reasons and their obligation. I would work hard, take part-time jobs to earn money, and go to college and medical school. I would become a doctor. Since I loved my parents, I buried my dream of becoming a writer. I declared pre-med as my major. Secretly, I wondered if I could become both doctor and writer. I'd read that Somerset Maugham had been educated as a physician and went to sea as a ship's doctor. Chekhov had studied medicine and published his early stories and sketches in journals and papers under the pen name "The Doctor Without Patients." Conan Doyle, unable to support himself as an eye specialist, used his empty consulting room during visiting hours to write the stories of Sherlock Holmes. An Englishman, a Russian, and a Scotsman had started as physicians and then crossed over into the writing life. By following in their footsteps, perhaps I would be able to fulfill my parents' dream as well as my own. Almost immediately, I saw the flaw in my solution. Before they became successful authors, all three had failed as doctors. Copyright (c) 1999 by Daniel Keyes All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777. Excerpted from Algernon, Charlie, and I: A Writer's Journey by Daniel Keyes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Maze of Time
1 My Writing Cellarp. 11
2 The White Mousep. 17
3 Second Actingp. 22
4 Breaking Dishesp. 27
5 I Become Ship's Doctorp. 36
Part 2 From Ship to Shrink
6 Inkblotsp. 53
7 The Boy on Book Mountainp. 59
8 Silence of the Psychoanalystsp. 67
9 First Published Storiesp. 74
10 Editing Pulps and Writing Comic Booksp. 81
Part 3 Mind Over Matter
11 Looking for Charliep. 91
12 Charlie Finds Mep. 94
13 Getting Therep. 100
14 Rejection and Acceptancep. 110
Part 4 The Alchemy of Writing
15 Transformations: From Story To Teleplay To Novelp. 117
16 Rejected Againp. 123
17 Of Love and Endingsp. 130
18 We Find A Homep. 138
Part 5 Post-Publication Blues
19 "Don't Hide Your Light Under A Bushel"p. 147
20 When Are Writers Like Saints?p. 153
21 "Charly" Goes Hollywoodp. 156
22 Broadway Boundp. 163
23 And Then What Happened?p. 172
Afterword: My "What Would Happen If...?" is Happeningp. 178
Acknowledgmentsp. 183
Plus "Flowers for Algernon" Complete original novelette versionp. 187