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For the second time in a year, Buffalo will be the setting for the debut of an important book.

When the hardcover volume "Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales" is unveiled here Thursday, it will be an event of national importance, said publishers at W.W. Norton & Co. and officials at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.

It also will solidify Buffalo's growing reputation as a good place for literature to be presented for the first time.

"I love Buffalo. It's a wonderful book city," said Robert Weil, executive editor and vice president at W.W. Norton in New York City. "Buffalo has such an arts imagination."

The book's debut comes a year after the library played a key role in the publication of a previously unpublished novella by Mark Twain, "A Murder, a Mystery and a Marriage." That book became a worldwide best seller.

The library's success with the Twain book laid the foundation for Buffalo to be chosen for the debut of the Mandela book, library officials said.

"Because of our connection with Norton, we were able to hold the national debut of this book," said Ami Savigny, a library spokeswoman. "It's a national honor."

The 143-page book, with a vibrantly colored cover and endorsements from actor Bill Cosby and poet Maya Angelou, among others, is a collection of traditional African folk tales personally selected by Mandela.

A native of South Africa, Mandela battled apartheid -- racial segregation -- in his country for decades, spending 27 years in prison. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and then served a five-year term as the first black president of South Africa.

The tales in the new collection are retold by contemporary storytellers, and each is accompanied by original illustrations created for the book by African artists. The artworks are now the property of the Buffalo and Erie County library system.

"Finally, here's a book that celebrates non-Western literature," said Weil, who has visited Africa and who snapped up the book shortly after it was published in South Africa.

"For me, this book is a part of our seminal culture," Weil said. "Before Aesop and Ovid, there were other people telling myths and telling stories about who we are and where we came from."

The debut of the Mandela book in Buffalo will include two days of music, lectures and storytelling sessions by nationally known, as well as local, performers. Festivities will take place Thursday and the following Saturday in the Central Library on Lafayette Square.

The artworks created for the book will also be displayed at the Central Library starting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The event, including a reception, is free and open to the public, Savigny said.

Those artworks will be housed permanently in the new North Jefferson branch library in the city after construction of that library -- which will have an African village theme -- is completed, she said.

"We want to tie this into the African-American community here and to emphasize the North Jefferson library," Savigny said.

The ultimate goal of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library is to make the debut of this book the start of what would be an annual African storytelling festival -- named in Mandela's honor -- in Buffalo each year, Savigny said.

All events connected with the Mandela book are free and open to the public, and all will take place in the Central Library on Lafayette Square.

Events scheduled for Thursday include:

6:30 p.m., welcoming remarks in the Ring of Knowledge area, followed at 6:45 by storytelling by Sharon Holley, a local storyteller and librarian, and music by Sowande Eddie Nicholson.

7 p.m., a speech by Achmat Dangor, a South African author and former head of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, on "African Storytelling: Imagining the Past, Understanding the Future."

8 p.m., a reception and art display of the original works created by African artists for the Mandela book.

Events scheduled for the following Saturday include:

1 to 3 p.m., a family program including music, storytelling by local performers Holley, Celes Tisdale and Yvonne Harris, and a featured performance by well-known storyteller Kasiya Makaka Phiri, who contributed a story to the Mandela collection.


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