‘Algernon’ lives on

Daniel Keyes says he’s never had writer’s block — an assertion he’s lived up to in the 34 years since he wrote his first book, the acclaimed “Flowers for Algernon.”

Earlier this year, the Ohio University professor emeritus of English published “Algernon, Charlie and I” ($24.95, hardback, Challcrest Press), an autobiography and companion book to his original novel, which tells the story of a mentally handicapped man and a mouse who increase their intelligence to genius levels through science. A television version of “Flowers for Algernon” aired on CBS in February. “Charly,” a major motion picture based on the book, was released in 1968 and earned Cliff Robertson the Academy Award for Best Actor.

“As a kid, I was a storyteller, and I’ve always wanted to write,” said Keyes, 73, the author of three novels (he’s at work on a fourth) and four nonfiction books. “Writing has been my entire life. It is an act of discovery, a creative act.”

Keyes, who taught creative writing at Ohio University from 1966 to 1992, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in literature and remains fascinated with “the mind in conflict with itself.” While in Athens, he had just written “The Fifth Sally,” the first novel to deal with multiple personality disorder, when fate intervened — he met Billy Milligan.

Then a patient at the Athens Mental Health Center, Milligan — the first person ever acquitted of major crimes after being diagnosed with multiple personality disorder — had read “Flowers for Algernon” and asked Keyes to write his story. “The Minds of Billy Milligan,” published in 1981, quickly became an international bestseller. It was especially popular in Japan, where its sequel, “The Milligan Wars,” sold more than a million copies. The book will be published in the United States after a movie based on “The Minds of Billy Milligan” is completed. A final rewrite of that movie script is in progress.

To keep up with the latest on Keyes, who now lives in Boca Roton, Fla., check the Web at shell.flite.net/~dkeyes/.

— Dwight Woodward
 
 
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