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Remembering Harold Newman: OU Alumnus Helped Create Institute for US-China Issues

Harold J. Newman, a beloved OU alumnus whose generous gift created both the Harold J. and Ruth Newman Chair and the Institute for US-China Issues (housed in the College of International Studies), passed away on September 23, 2021 at the age of 90.

Newman was a creative mind and spirit, embracing change and taking risks. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma, where he first developed a lifelong interest in Asian studies. He went on to receive a master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A from Harvard University. After graduate school, Newman served in the U.S. Army in Strategic Intelligence for two years before beginning an investment career with Goldman Sachs. He went on to launch his own hedge fund company and at age 33 became partner and managing director of Neuberger Berman. In addition to his career in finance, Newman was a trustee of the Asia Society in New York City, a board member of The Hertz Foundation and MCC Theatre (New York City), and a producer of well-known plays In the Heights and Hamilton, among others.

Never one to forget his alma mater, Newman generously enabled OU to establish the OU Institute for US-China Issues and the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, the first American award for Chinese literature whose first winner, Mo Yan (2009), went on to win the Nobel Prize in 2012. Organized around two pillars — Cultural Issues and STEEPP Issues (security, technology, ecology, economics, politics and public health) — the Institute for US-China Issues sponsors the aforementioned Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, the Newman Prize for English Jueju, the US-China Poetry Dialogue, the international journal Chinese Literature Today, the Chinese Literature Translation Archive, the Newman Post-doctoral Fellowship, a speaker series, and a new research program focusing on China’s global influence.

Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

Newman’s establishment of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature in particular built upon and further solidified OU’s unique history of internationalism in literature. This tradition began in the 1920s when Roy Temple House founded Books Abroad (now World Literature Today) and continued in the 1970s, when OU became the home of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, considered to be the American Nobel.

Newman with 2019 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature winner Xi Xi.

OU Professor Jonathan Stalling, co-director of the Institute for US-China Issues and director of the Newman Prize,

attributes the success of the Prize and other US-China programs to “the vision and generosity of Harold Newman and his ability to listen to and work with others.” What makes the Newman Prize so special, Stalling says, is that “each year the jury is comprised of Chinese literature scholars selected from across the globe, and its winners reflect a truly international level of prestige. This can serve to increase their influence abroad and help empower writers in China who have an international reputation, which means that OU can play a small part in fostering internationalism in China itself.”

Though it is the more well-known, the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature is just one of two Newman-sponsored prizes awarded at OU. The second, the Newman Prize for English Jueju, is awarded to students in Oklahoma and the UK who write a form of Classical Chinese poetry in English called jueju. This past award cycle, students from the Saint Paul Girls’ School in London sent dozens of personal cards and notes to Harold Newman, thanking him for supporting the competition. In these notes, some expressed their gratitude for a competition that made them feel pride in their Chinese heritage, while others thanked Newman for the opportunity to not only learn about but directly participate in traditional Chinese culture.

Newman's Impact

Harold Newman touched many lives, from students like these to his friends and colleagues at OU. Newman’s fellow College of International Studies Board of Visitors members reflected in a recent meeting on their memories of their friend and mentor. BOV member Lou Kerr spoke about introducing Harold to OU football, which he passionately followed through his life, while the Farzaneh brothers recalled Harold helping introduce them to the college, offering advice about how their donations could enhance the Middle East studies program. Jonathan Stalling spoke at length about Newman’s contributions to OU, remarking, “Everyone in our community who has ever met Harold knows that his enthusiasm for OU, and for theater, literature (especially poetry), and improving US-China relations was both boundless and infectious. His regular presence on the OU campus and his vision and passion for the Institute for US-China Issues and the programs his generosity made possible will be terribly missed.”

Outside OU, luminaries in the US-China relations field have also paid tribute to Newman. “Sometimes in life you are touched by the sheer humanity of a single individual,” said Asia Society President and former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd. “Hal Newman was one such person. The legacy he leaves is a great one. And for many years to come, those of us at the Asia Society will continue to thank him for his vision, his deep generosity, and for always making it fun along the way.”

Ian Bremmer, Harold J. Newman Fellow in Geopolitics at the Asia Society Policy Institute and founder of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, wrote, “I will forever miss Hal. He was one of the most curious, enthusiastic, and joyful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. He truly made everything and everyone around him brighter with his infectious happiness. Hal’s legacy of philanthropy, generosity, and kindness will live on through his family and all those he impacted.”

While Newman will be remembered for his many professional and philanthropic accomplishments, his most treasured accomplishment was his family. He was a devoted husband to Ruth, his wife of nearly 68 years; a supportive brother to his sister, Ruth Goldstein; and an adoring father and grandfather to four daughters (Jo Ellen, Claudia [David], Jackie and Carla) and six grandchildren (Jordan, Jake, Eliza, Julia, Kate and Grant).

Harold Newman leaves an important legacy at the University of Oklahoma, and he will be missed by many students, staff, and faculty as well as the many authors and poets around the world whose lives he has changed. His smile and enthusiasm for life was genuinely infectious, and his presence on campus will be deeply missed.


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