On the road ... to a degree

12/06/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

By DAVID PERRY, Sun Staff

The Lowell-born writer who authored Dr. Sax will soon become Dr. Jack.

What he never got in life -- a college sheepskin -- Jack Kerouac will receive next spring, nearly four decades after his death. Kerouac will receive an honorary doctorate of letters degree during the June 2, 2007, commencement ceremony at UMass Lowell.

Though he is widely considered an important American writer, and 1957's On The Road has been embraced by generations of readers around the world, it will be the first time Kerouac has received such an honor from academia.

"I'm delighted about this, so happy," said John Sampas, executor of Kerouac's literary estate. "Jack would've been bowled over. And he would have felt, it's about time, I deserve it."

The degree will precede by two weeks the arrival in Lowell of the original, 120-foot scroll on which Kerouac's classic On The Road was typed in three weeks in 1951, which will be on display at the Boott Mills Cotton Museum from June 15-Sept. 14, 2007.

Next year also marks the 50th anniversary of On The Road's publication.

"I'm just really delighted that UMass Lowell is the first one to do something like this," said Hilary Holladay, a UMass Lowell English professor and, since 1995, director of the university's annual Kerouac Conference on Beat Literature.

"This is a great moment," said UMass Lowell Provost John Wooding, a native of England who knew Lowell for being Kerouac's hometown more than anything else before coming here. "This is Lowell's university honoring the city's son, who is one of the most significant writers of the 20th century."

Wooding said a committee of students, faculty and other staff sifted through nominations, including the one for Kerouac, written by Paul Marion. Marion is the university's director of community relations who also edited Atop An Underwood, a collection of Kerouac's earliest writing. The recommendation was approved by the UMass system's trustees a few weeks ago.

A 1939 graduate of Lowell High School, where he lusted for literature while making a mark on the football field, Kerouac entered Columbia University after a year at Horace Mann School. He broke a leg playing football at Columbia as a freshman and never got along with the team's coach.

Kerouac left Columbia before completing his second year, spent a brief time in the Navy, and eventually headed out to explore America on the freewheeling trip that was captured in rich, freewheeling narrative in On The Road.