Helen Duberstein Lipton died peacefully on Sept. 2, 2020, in North Truro. She was surrounded by her daughters, Jackie and Irene, and close family at Irene’s home, where she had been living since March. She leaves behind a rich legacy in her work and in the memories of those who loved her.
Born in the Bronx, N.Y., on June 3, 1926, to Bessie Lieberman and Jacob Duberstein, she entered New York’s City College in 1942 at the age of 16. Initially, she was an engineering student, one of two women, before switching to literature. She befriended many of the artists and intellectuals there who were questioning societal structures, such as Gestalt therapy founder Paul Goodman and Julian Beck, founder of the experimental Living Theater. She also met her beloved future husband there, writer Victor Lipton.
On Goodman’s urging, the teenage Helen hitchhiked to Provincetown with a friend and spent the summer in a room rented from a Portuguese family on Montello Street. When she complained to Victor about walking all the way to her East End job, he sent her his bicycle by freight train. It was an effective method of courtship.
In 1949, when Helen and Victor married (she kept Duberstein as her professional name), they left behind conservative, religious Jewish homes to set up a progressive one of their own, where art was considered a way of life. Both their daughters became painters.
In 1970, the family was among the first residents in the city-run Westbeth artist housing complex in Manhattan. They also enjoyed many full summers in Provincetown. At the age of 84, Helen finally fulfilled her dream of owning a home here and spent much of her last decade in it.
Both Helen and Victor were New York City schoolteachers. Helen was one of the first to develop methods to teach reading to children with special needs. She was active in the ’60s antiwar movement and identified early on as a feminist, never conforming to conventional roles as mother and wife. She loved teaching but insisted on giving the same salary to a housekeeper and caregiver for her children. She authored many poetry collections, including The Voyage Out, Arrived Safely, The Human Dimension, and The Shameless Old Lady; and novels, such as A Thousand Wives Dancing (based in Provincetown) and A Dream of Rewards, nominated for the Pushcart Press 10th Annual Editors’ Choice Award. Her fiction and commentary appeared in the New Republic, the Village Voice, Commentary, and Liberation.
Helen was a playwright-in-residence at the Circle Repertory Company in New York, where her play Time Shadows was produced in 1969. She had plays produced at the off-off-Broadway Theatre for the New City in the ’70s and ’80s, and was a founding member of the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective.
Travel was important to Helen. She and Victor spent many summers in France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.
She was predeceased by her husband and her brother, Morton Duberstein, and leaves her daughters, Jackie Lipton and husband J. Christopher Bolton of New York City, and Irene Lipton and husband Phil Smith of North Truro, and her devoted dog, Kafka.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Provincetown Theater or to KIND (Kids in Need of Desks).