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Couth Buzzard Books hosting benefit cabaret for co-owner’s daughter’s cancer treatment costs

By Next Door Media Intern Mwiza Kalisa
For the past 20 years, Couth Buzzard Books has been a center for the community. The bookstore at 8310 Greenwood Ave. N., which sells new and used books, is a place where people not only go to browse books, but to socialize and listen to live music and poetry.

But now, Couth Buzzard needs the community’s help. This Saturday, Couth Buzzard Books & Espresso Buono Café is hosting a benefit cabaret for Ruby Smith, daughter of Couth Buzzard co-owner Theo Dzielak and Kate Smith. Ruby was recently diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
“Since [August] our lives have been very different; it’s very moment to moment,” Dzielak said.
Friends and family want to raise money for the 17-year-old’s treatment expenses. Dzielak says that the benefit cabaret grew out of “civil strength.” As a community organizer and performer, Dzilak has contacts in the arts community, most of whom offered to perform on Saturday. Dzielak used to organize house cabarets in the 1990s.
“When I opened this place I knew that had to be an important part of the vision, not just to sell books but to have community events,” he said.
Couth Buzzard gives the neighborhood an opportunity to showcase their talents. The bookstore has writing workshops, open mic nights and music events.
“It’s become a community gathering place for the neighborhood,” he added.
Kenny Mandell, a music teacher and performer, has known Dzielak since the store re-opened in 2009 after closing its original location at North 73rd Street and Greenwood Avenue a year-and-a-half earlier.
“I think why we became friends is because of a similar philosophy; engaging the local community through art,” Mandell said.
Mandell, who performs every first Friday of the month, has developed a jazz following at the bookstore. When he learned of Ruby’s illness he said that it had a profound effect on his life.
“I think it’s critical that people need to help each other, we’re all in this together,” he said. “If we don’t help each other out it’s a sad statement.”
There has been a tremendous amount of support from the community. Mandell sent out 100 e-mails to his own mailing list and is among the group of performers who have stepped forward.
“I think Theo’s vision goes way beyond selling books; it’s much more inclusive of the local community,” Mandell said. “I just hope to see people opening up their hearts and helping out in whatever way they can.”
Kate Smith says that the communities they’ve been working with for many years are indeed coming forth.
“It’s the community that’s going to save us. It sounds so simplistic but it’s true,” she said. “There’s no better proof of that than what has happened with our daughter, Ruby.”
Smith has heard from people in California, where Ruby was born, and from friends who are located as far as Scotland.
Ruby, a Senior at Nathan Hale High School, plays bass and loves to write. The 17-year-old has posted honest journal entries through CaringBridge, an organization that offers websites to people facing serious medical conditions.
Victoria Millard, the host on Saturday, has known Ruby since she was 2.
“Wherever Kate and Theo have lived they have created community around them,” she said.
Millard is the board president of Ear to the Ground, a clown and physical theater company.
“I think that’s what we’ve learned in our work, that laughter is medicine,” Millard said.
Millard and Smith worked together at Children’s Hospital as clowns for 11 years.
“If you can laugh even at the darkest things it’s a way to keep the spirits up and it does make a difference in health and outcome,” she said. “That’s what we’ve learned through our work in the hospital and that’s what I’m hoping to do to help now, not only for Ruby but for Kate.”
Millard says that Ruby’s family has created community in ways that are important to sustaining human life.
“Movies are great, listening to music is great, but there’s something about a small intimate experience of musicians who are playing just for you,” she said. “They’ve given artists a place to express themselves, to be able to do their work in a non-commercial way. They’ve reached the neighborhood through art and have brought people into their home, because they know that art makes people happy and it’s vitally important.”
The benefit cabaret is this Saturday, Oct. 22nd, starting at 7:30 p.m., at 8310 Greenwood Ave N.