In honor of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday this week, Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA) announced plans to produce an audiobook version of Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, an award-winning book of legendary tales hand-picked by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

An array of celebrated performers are donating their talents to the charitable endeavor; those already signed on to voice stories include Gillian Anderson, America Ferrera, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Alan Rickman, and Jurnee Smollett. Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will record a special message to the world’s children that will be featured on the audiobook.

Emmy/Golden Globe winner/Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard, who co-founded ANSA in 1989, will serve as Creative Director of the audiobook. She said, “I was privileged to be with Nelson Mandela recently in London, where he challenged us, saying, ‘…our work is far from complete. Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings are oppressed, there is more work to be done…after nearly 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens. It is in your hands now.’ With this audiobook, ANSA pays tribute to our friend and our hero, Nelson Mandela, on his 90th birthday. It will take the hands of all mankind to lift that burden and carry on the work. We hope you will join in and support this effort.”

Proceeds from the audiobook – slated for a Summer 2009 release – will benefit the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (NMCF), a South African organization founded in 1995 to improve the way society treats its children; and ANSA, which works in the U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, provide comprehensive assistance to children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, advance human rights, educate and empower at-risk youth and build bonds between both nations through arts, culture and the shared pursuit of social justice. Both organizations are working to address the impact of the AIDS pandemic on children in South Africa, which has more people living with HIV/AIDS and more children orphaned by the disease than any other country.

“We’re deeply grateful to our generous partners and to the gifted artists who are helping bring these remarkable stories to life,” said ANSA’s Executive Director Sharon Gelman. “Our goal is to create an audiobook that can be enjoyed by people around the world, increasing awareness of Africa’s rich cultural heritages and creating a better future for South Africa’s most vulnerable children.”

In his original foreword for the folktale collection, Nelson Mandela wrote, “It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller may never die in Africa, that all the children of the world may experience the wonder of books.” With the forthcoming audiobook edition of Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, his vision comes full circle, as the timeless tales he selected return to the great oral tradition that allowed them to be passed down for centuries, and will now enlighten and entertain children of all ages the world over

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