The literary equivalent of rock concerts for causes, this collection of never-before. published short stories and poems contributes its writers' royalties to the African National Congress. And like those concerts, the amalgam features its stars--writers like Margaret Atwood, Wole Soyinka, Joyce Carol Oates, and Nadine Gordimer--but also a great many lesser knowns. Given the book's objective, the collection is not unexpectedly uneven in quality, varied in subject matter, and, with more than 35 contributions, bulky in appearance. There are fine stories from the major writers, and some pleasant surprises from a few newcomers. Margaret Atwood's ""The Age of Lead"" is particularly effective in evoking a fin de siÃ¨cle mood of the approaching end of things. British writer Ian Watson's allegorical ""The Beggars in our Backyard"" is an accomplished piece of magical realism. And ""Defend Yourself Against Me,"" by Pakistani-born Bapsi Sidhwa, is a moving story of memory and expiation among East Indians now living in Houston. A couple of pieces are little more than thinly disguised polemics, however, including a defense of the Cultural Revolution in China by Hah Suyin; and some of the stories by South African writers, while accomplished, merely go over old ground. The best new writing seems to be coming from the former Commonwealth--writers like Roy Heath (Guyana), Lawrence Scott (Jamaica), and Aamer Hussein (Pakistan) are especially noteworthy. The few poems included, excepting those by Nigerian Ben Okri and American Jane Yolen, tend to be heartfelt but not much else. For those who don't mind their politics and prose mixed, or just want to sample some new writing, but there's too much agenda here to make for a literary milestone.