The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers

The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers

by Bridgett M. Davis

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Overview

As seen on the Today Show: This true story of an unforgettable mother, her devoted daughter, and their life in the Detroit numbers of the 1960s and 1970s highlights "the outstanding humanity of black America" (James McBride).


In 1958, the very same year that an unknown songwriter named Berry Gordy borrowed $800 to found Motown Records, a pretty young mother from Nashville, Tennessee, borrowed $100 from her brother to run a numbers racket out of her home. That woman was Fannie Davis, Bridgett M. Davis's mother.


Part bookie, part banker, mother, wife, and granddaughter of slaves, Fannie ran her numbers business for thirty-four years, doing what it took to survive in a legitimate business that just happened to be illegal. She created a loving, joyful home, sent her children to the best schools, bought them the best clothes, mothered them to the highest standard, and when the tragedy of urban life struck, soldiered on with her stated belief: "Dying is easy. Living takes guts."


A daughter's moving homage to an extraordinary parent, The World According to Fannie Davis is also the suspenseful, unforgettable story about the lengths to which a mother will go to "make a way out of no way" and provide a prosperous life for her family — and how those sacrifices resonate over time.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Kaitlyn Greenidge

Davis's book is accessible, her language plain and direct. She has a cleareyed understanding of what it means to be poor and what kind of opportunities money creates…The World According to Fannie Davis would make a thrilling film. That's probably a testament to Davis's screenwriting background. But the arc of her mother's story may be too radical for most production companies: A black woman unapologetically engages in criminal activity and excels at it, making a better life for her family, no moralizing included. Thrumming beneath every sentence is an important question: "Who gets to be lucky?" Our culture loves stories of the lucky criminal, the Mafioso who gets away with it all, but that person is usually a white man. We need more stories like Fannie's—the triumph and good life of a lucky black woman in a deeply corrupt world.

The New York Times - Jennifer Szalai

The World According to Fannie Davis is a daughter's gesture of loving defiance, an act of reclamation, an absorbing portrait of her mother in full…Blending memoir and social history, she recounts her mother's extraordinary story alongside the larger context of Motor City's rise and fall.

Publishers Weekly

09/10/2018
Novelist Davis (Into the Go-Slow) honors her mother in this lively and heartfelt memoir of growing up in 1960s and ’70s Detroit. Before there was the Michigan Lottery, there was the numbers—an illegal lottery based on three-digit numbers. As Davis notes, it was a “lucrative shadow economy” in African-American communities. Fanny Davis was a feisty and sharply intelligent woman who moved her family from Nashville, Tenn., to Detroit in the early 1960s. There, she learned the numbers ropes and set out to run her own operation; in a short time she was able to provide generously for her family with an upscale house, a stocked refrigerator, shopping sprees at tony department stores, and even a trip to Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau resort. Alongside her mother’s story, Davis chronicles the hardships African-Americans suffered—predatory real estate schemes, discriminatory treatment in stores, and police abuse. Looking back as an adult, Davis realizes that her mother took risks in running her business, but recalls fondly a childhood during which she always felt secure. This charming tale of a strong and inspirational woman offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past, savoring the good without sugarcoating the bad. Agent: Anjali Singh, Ayesha Pande Literary. (Jan.)

From the Publisher

Well-Read Black Girl February Book Club Pick

New York Times Editor's Choice


"The World According to Fannie Davis is a daughter's gesture of loving defiance, an act of reclamation, an absorbing portrait of her mother in full. Blending memoir and social history, [Davis] recounts her mother's extraordinary story alongside the larger context of Motor City's rise and fall."—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

"Davis's heartwarming memoir honors her remarkable mother, who made a good life for her family in the '60s and '70s."—New York Times, Editor's Choice

"A rich and heartwarming memoir honors a remarkable mother....We need more stories like Fannie's-the triumph and good life of a lucky black woman in a deeply corrupt world."—New York Times Book Review

"The story of Fannie Davis, as her daughter so thoroughly tells it, is the story of not just one woman, in one city, at one period in time; it is, in many ways, the story of black America, the resilience and solidarity of the marginalized."—Entertainment Weekly

"Bridgett M. Davis draws a loving portrait of her unforgettable mother who gamed the system and won. Davis is a witness to the journey of the African American strivers of Detroit, but she is also a witness to the evolution of her own remarkable family history. Combining rigorous research with an insider's access, The World According To Fannie Davis is a triumphant tale of female empowerment. Bridgett Davis' love letter to her mother lights a bold new path, because sometimes leaning in is not enough."—Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

"This book brought tears to my eyes...Every once in a while, a book comes along that shows the magic, the kindness, the outstanding humanity of a black America that so few now remember... Fannie Davis was always described as 'lucky.' That her talented youngest daughter Bridgett had the good sense to share her story with us all makes us lucky as well."—James McBride, author of The Color of Water, winner of the National Book Award for The Good Lord Bird, and recipient of the 2015 National Humanities Medal



"A timely, intriguing and well-told story of what it means to come of age during a time when people found so many amazing ways to survive...at once amazingly specific and trail blazingly universal. I couldn't put this book down."Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award and author of Brown Girl Dreaming and Another Brooklyn

"Davis has a great, sharp way of writing about her mom, and she captures the energy of Detroit at that time."—Glory Edim, founder of Well-Read Black Girl

"The World According To Fannie Davis is a world of urban wit, grit and toughness. It is also a world of transformative magic- the magic of feminine strength and grace...as many people as possible should know about Fannie Davis."—Mary Gaitskill, author of National Book Award finalist Veronica

"The payoffs here are many, including this daughter's loving take on that relentless class of African Americans who made prosperity imaginable for others no matter the odds."—Gregory Pardlo, author of Air Traffic and Digest, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

"An altogether fresh take on the black experience, and a compelling piece of the American experience. An absorbing and delightful book."—Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World

"[A] rare book that successfully combines vivid family memoir with timely social history...I loved this book."—Alysia Abbott, author of Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

Bridgett Davis named a favorite black female American author in the New York Times Style Magazine.—James Hannaham, author of Delicious Foods

"A captivating, energetic memoir that entertains and enlightens as it reminds us of the unstoppable force-in life and on the page-of a mother determined to lift her family up."—George Hodgman, veteran magazine and book editor and author of Bettyville

"The World According to Fannie Davis is a compelling, unusual book. Bridgett Davis tells an insightful tale of how low-stakes gambling helped fuel-and fund-racial justice work in Detroit, while giving us an intimate, invaluable look at the complexities of class for African-Americans. Her story also makes a trenchant point: If a black family could achieve this much while locked out of decent mortgages and good jobs, imagine what they could have done if given the same opportunities as whites. A fascinating read."—Tracie McMillan, author of the New York Times bestseller The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

"Davis' memoir is a loving portrait of her resourceful mother and of Motor City in the 1960s and '70s."—Tom Beer, Newsday

"The World According to Fannie Davis is a love letter to [Davis'] mother, but also a crash course in economics and Black history...I gained a clearer understanding of what the phrase ["I'm playing the numbers"] really meant and how the lottery's existence was embedded in the livelihood and welfare of Black lives especially."—Jennifer Baker, Electric Lit

"The point of this glorious, elaborate, and cinematic detail is that it says so much about Fannie, healthy black motherhood, and the American experience...Bridgett weaves two other disparate yet fundamentally American stories together through her portrait of her mother. One is a beautifully complex rendering of black motherhood that offers up humanity without stereotype-unfortunately rare in literature about black women. There's a simple but very profound, uncomplicated love between mother and daughter in this book. Another is what Bridgett calls the blue-collar bourgeoisie, a full, vibrant space of ingenuity and enterprise that allows for a multifaceted black humanity to unfold in refreshing and colorful ways."—Kirkus, cover feature

"Novelist Bridgett M. Davis, professor at Baruch college and Fannie's youngest child, witnessed it all, and ever since she has fiercely protected her mother with her silence - until now. In her new memoir The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers, Davis paints a warm, loving portrait of her mother and their tight-knit family - not untouched by tragedy despite their good luck - and what it was like to grow up with the Numbers constantly playing in the background."—Sheila McClear, Longreads

"For 34 years, Bridgett Davis' mom, Fannie, ran a numbers racket out of her apartment in one of Detroit's poorest neighborhoods. While the business was illegal, Fannie survived and thrived, raising five kids and a grandson with wit, style and a motto: 'Dying is easy. Living takes guts.'"—Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post "Best Books of the Week"

"A remarkable story of a mother...Sharp and unwilling to be hemmed in by the dual restrictions of race and gender, she did what it took to raise a family and to uplift a community...In this admiring and highly compelling memoir, Bridgett Davis tells the story of her beloved mother. This is not a story about capitalizing on degeneracy. It is one of hope and hustling in a world where to have the former almost demanded the latter. This outstanding book is a tribute to one woman but will surely speak to the experiences of many."—Kirkus, starred review

"Novelist Davis honors her mother in this lively and heartfelt memoir of growing up in the 1960s and '70s Detroit...This charming tale of a strong and inspirational woman offers a tantalizing glimpse into the past, savoring the good without sugarcoating the bad."
Publishers Weekly


"Must read non-fiction...Readers will be fascinated by Fannie's life and inspired by her love of her family."—Elizabeth Rowe, Bookish

"A moving portrait... Her writing feels rooted in the city and its changing landscape. Combining historical research with extensive interviews, The World According to Fannie Davis is an engrossing tribute to a vibrant, hardworking, unforgettable woman."—Booklist review

"[Davis] humanizes the hustle...This book will be a thought-provoking and inspirational delight for anyone searching for understanding in a world designed for only some to succeed."

Shirley Ngozi Nwangwa, Wellesley Centers for Women

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2018-10-15

A remarkable story of a mother whose "ingenuity and talent and dogged pursuit of happiness made possible [her family's] beautiful home, brimming refrigerator and quality education."

Fannie Davis was an amazing woman. Sharp and unwilling to be hemmed in by the dual restrictions of race and gender, she did what it took to raise a family and to uplift a community. In 1960s and '70s Detroit, she ran the "Numbers," an illegal lottery that was nonetheless central to many urban and especially African-American communities, especially in the era before states realized that licit gambling could be a lucrative trade and even as they cracked down on the gambling they defined as illicit. Above all, Fannie Davis was a mother. In this admiring and highly compelling memoir, Bridgett Davis (Creative, Film and Narrative Writing/Baruch Coll.; Into the Go-Slow, 2014, etc.) tells the story of her beloved mother. The author knew that her mom's role in the Numbers had to be kept secret, but she also knew that it was not shameful. Placing her subject in the larger historical contexts of the African-American and urban experiences and the histories of Detroit and of underground entrepreneurship embodied in the Numbers, and framing it within numerous vital postwar trends, the author is especially insightful about how her mother embodied the emergence of a "blue collar, black-bourgeoisie." Although there was considerable risk in running the Numbers, it also provided a path forward to a comfortable lifestyle otherwise nearly unimaginable. While critics liked to paint the game as a path toward dissolution, for the author—and many others—it was anything but. This is not a story about capitalizing on degeneracy. It is one of hope and hustling in a world where to have the former almost demanded the latter.

This outstanding book is a tribute to one woman but will surely speak to the experiences of many.


Library Journal

11/01/2018
By all accounts, Fannie Davis was a lucky woman. Moving from segregated Nashville to Detroit in the 1950s, she realized her husband, John T, was unable to support the family as an autoworker. She made the choice to start a homegrown business as a bookie for the Numbers, a "ubiquitous" lottery. Her success allowed her to provide for her family better than most blacks or women could hope for at the time. But in 1972, when Michigan voted to lift the legislative ban on a state lottery and then went from a weekly to daily lottery in 1977, the government was running their own numbers game. Fannie sustained her business for more than 30 years, but this challenge ended her reign. Novelist Davis (journalism, Baruch Coll., CUNY; Into the Go-Slow) switches to nonfiction to recount her mother's "triumphant Great Migration tale." But this isn't Fanny's story alone, it's also a sociological urban history of Detroit as a Northern sanctuary city that still suffered racial constraints. VERDICT The Numbers' background is rarely explored, and works such as Don Liddick's The Mob's Daily Number lack the personal connection Davis so vividly exploits in this successful combination of family and sociological history.—Jessica Bushore, Xenia, OH

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316558730
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 01/29/2019
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 504,555
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

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