On the eve of World AIDS Day, United Nations officials and authors John Updike and Salman Rushdie released a collection of short stories from leading authors for the benefit of HIV and AIDS victims in South Africa.

The collection, called Telling Tales, features 21 short stories by famous authors from around the world.

Among them is Salman Rushdie, the author of several books, including Satanic Verses.  He says contributing to the book gives authors a chance to speak out against silence and ignorance, elements that foster the spread of AIDS.

"We know that in South Africa there are problems associated with the government's, or certainly the president's, denial of the link between HIV and AIDS, which means among other things that amazingly few people are receiving antiretroviral treatment," said Mr. Rushdie.  "And then you find unfortunately in many Islamic countries the idea that if you are a good Muslim you don't get AIDS. And therefore AIDS is plague on bad Muslims and unbelievers. These are all very pervasive and dangerous misconceptions that are floating around out there, and I think that as well as hoping people will buy and read and enjoy this book I think it is important for us to say our piece about those misconceptions and how they can be knocked down."

Nobel Prize Laureate Nadine Gordimer came up with the project and contributed a story of her own. She says she thought of the idea after seeing lots of musicians raising money for HIV and AIDS research and prevention, but not authors. 

"But what have we writers done? And I felt that, although I'm sure all of us, many of us have given money and contributed in a private way to whatever organizations are fighting the disease, but as a group, as people as artists, as people in the arts, what have we done? And the answer was, nothing," said Ms. Gordimer.

Ms. Gordimer says all profits from the book will go to the Treatment Action Campaign, an organization that advocates prevention of AIDS and treatment for those afflicted with HIV in her native South Africa.

Contributing authors include four other Nobel Prize winners: the German novelist Gunter Grass, Japanese-born Kenzaburo Oe, Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Colombia, and Portuguese author Jose Saramago.  Other well-known names include American writers Arthur Miller and Woody Allen, and the Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Some of the short stories are original, some have been published elsewhere. The stories in the collection are not about HIV or AIDS, but author John Updike says the notion of dying is a theme in the work he contributed.

"It isn't involved with AIDS," he noted.  "I think the idea though is AIDS, how it has changed my head, it has put a dark shadow on sex and beyond that it has introduced the notion of an insidious contamination that might get you. So that to live a healthy life is almost to live an antiseptic life now."

The book is being translated into 12 different languages, and is available worldwide.