Parnassus Books is thrilled to welcome Bridgett M. Davis for The World According to Fannie Davis.
Our relationship with our mothers is often the first significant relationship we recall of our lives, and it was no different for Bridgett M. Davis. An award-winning filmmaker and author, Davis has written an exquisite memoir of her mother in The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, a soul-piercing and soul-satisfying tour de force.
Growing up in the 1960s and 70s in Detroit, Bridgett Davis kept a secret—a secret that she continued to safeguard well into her adult years. She knew that her family’s livelihood was entirely dependent on her mother’s business—and that it was never to be spoken about. Her mother, Fannie Davis, was a glamorous, larger-than-life figure to Bridgett. Anyone else, though, may have simply seen a working-class woman—a stay-at-home mother to five children who married her teenage sweetheart, and who was one of the millions of black migrants who fled the Jim Crow South to the North as part of the last wave of the Great Migration. But what lay beneath that surface sparkled like the rarest of diamonds. Fannie ran a hugely successful business, an underground lottery known as The Numbers, from her dining room table for more than three decades. The Numbers just happened to be illegal—and the business left the Davis family perpetually teetering between prosperity and doom.
The Numbers was a black-owned and black-controlled business that blossomed in the shadows into a lucrative economy. With few opportunities to legitimately raise one’s prospects in the African American community, and an economy that systematically excluded and subjugated blacks, Fannie made a way out of no way, and took an extraordinary chance on making it big. She was a one-woman business, a steward in her community, and each week she was responsible for thousands of dollars while shepherding the hopes and dreams of her loyal customers in Detroit. As Bridgett Davis notes, it’s historically been a part of the American tradition to use the lottery to better one’s condition, and its impossible to overstate The Numbers’ importance to African American culture. The Numbers was such a windfall, Detroit state lottery officials wanted in. They modeled a new game after it called The Daily, which was a virtual carbon copy of the informal lottery that black men and women had created and developed into a multi-million-dollar underground enterprise. With it, the state took a bigger piece of the pie that Fannie Davis had put her blood, sweat, and tears into, as she fought to make a comfortable home for her children while her husband faced unsteady work and declining health. Tragedy befell the Davis family time and time again, and Fannie suffered the greatest loss imaginable, losing not one but three of her children during her own lifetime.
But despite all of this, The World According to Fannie Davis is not a sad story. It’s a celebration of life and family. It’s a celebration of Detroit in its Motown/Motor City heyday, and of The Numbers, which powered African American communities. It’s a love letter to the honest and ever-toiling working-class women and men of America who so rarely get a spotlight. It’s most of all a daughter’s tribute to and celebration of her beloved parent. Bridgett Davis shows us, in prose that is by turns heartbreaking, riveting, and suspenseful, how Fannie Davis gambled on a way of life and won—and how her sacrifices shaped her family over generations.
The World According to Fannie Davis will shake you to your core and linger long after you’ve read the last page. You’ll think of your own family and home - wherever that may be: the sacrifices made in the name of love, and the bonds that can never be broken, not through time, distance, or death.
Bridgett M. Davis is a Professor of Journalism and the Writing Professions at Baruch College, CUNY, where she teaches creative, film, and narrative writing. A graduate of Spelman College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she is the director of the award-winning feature film Naked Acts and the author of two novels, Into the Go-Slow and Shifting Through Neutral.