Oscar Lee Brownstein

Oscar Lee Brownstein

Oscar Lee Brownstein

Iowa City

Oscar (Okkie) Lee Brownstein, 95, died on March 29 from complications from a fall in his neighborhood. He was also known by family and friends in Israel by his Hebrew name, Asher Lev Ben-Chaim.

Okkie was born November 13, 1928, in Becco, West Virginia, to Chaim and Thelma Brownstein. He graduated from Charleston High School, attended The University of West Virginia but flunked out because he was too busy editing the humor magazine and playing bridge for money. He was drafted into the army and served as a field artillery specialist in the Korean War. Returning to the States, he attended college on the G.I. Bill, earning a B.A. and an M.A. in English from The University of Missouri before going on to earn an M.F.A. in Playwriting from the Yale School of Drama, and a Ph.D. in Theatre from The University of Iowa. He taught English for three years at Binghamton College, State University of New York (SUNY) before being invited to return to The University of Iowa as a theatre professor. At Iowa he taught dramatic literature and theatre history before becoming Director of the newly-formed Iowa Playwrights Workshop, which at the time was also considered a part of the Iowa Writers Workshop. In 1979 he left Iowa to become the Chair of the Playwriting Department at the Yale School of Drama, where he taught for ten years before retiring. During the 1984-1985 academic year, he took a leave of absence and moved to Israel with his second wife, teaching dramatic literature at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.

Over the years, Okkie heard from many of his students, especially his playwrights, who thanked him for inspiring their creative work. He always viewed his primary role as creating the right conditions in which playwrights could thrive and learn to develop their unique voices in the process of revising their scripts.

Though highly accomplished professionally, when asked what he was most proud of in his life, Okkie quickly replied, without pause, “my three children.” He adored his children and grandchildren and always felt intensely happy in their presence.

Okkie is survived by his wife, Daphna Ben-Chaim; his three children, David Brownstein (BJ Schmitt), Sherrie (Jeff) Hall, and Jonathan (Angela) Brownstein; and four grandchildren, Ethan (Sam) Doerhoff, Gabrielle Bonet, Dylan Brownstein, and Alexander Brownstein. He is also survived by his sister, Ruth Leibowitz, and his sister-in-law, Marilyn Brownstein. He was predeceased by his parents; his younger brother, Sam; and his ex-wife and the mother of his children, Suzanne Brooks Brownstein.

A memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, June 16, at 1:00 p.m. at Lensing’s Oak-Hill chapel, 210 Holiday Road, Coralville.

Okkie was a highly creative, brilliant man who wore his intelligence lightly. He was always a quiet, modest person with a dry wit and a passionate interest in many things in life. He had one of the most positive perspectives about life of anyone who ever lived.

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