Cover image for The world according to Fannie Davis : my mother's life in the Detroit numbers / Bridgett M. Davis.
The world according to Fannie Davis : my mother's life in the Detroit numbers / Bridgett M. Davis.
Personal Author:
First United States edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2019.

Physical Description:
xi, 308 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
An homage to the author's mother relates how she cleverly played Detroit's illegal lottery in the 1970s to support the family while creating a loving, joyful home and mothering her children to the highest standards.


Material Type
Call Number
Book 928.1 Davis
Book 928.1 Davis
Book 928.1 Davis
Book 928.1 Davis
Book 928.1 Davis

On Order



A singular memoir highlighting "the outstanding humanity of black America" that tells the story of one unforgettable mother, her devoted daughter, and the life they lead in the Detroit numbers of the 1960s and 1970s (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 tattered apartment on Delaware Street, in one of Detroit's worst sections. That woman was Fannie Davis, Bridgett M. Davis' mother.

Part bookie, part banker, mother, wife, granddaughter of slaves, Fannie became more than a numbers runner: she was a kind of Ulysses, guiding both her husbands, five children and a grandson through the decimation of a once-proud city using her wit, style, guts, and even gun. She ran her numbers business for 34 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" to provide a prosperous life for her family -- and how those sacrifices resonate over time. This original, timely, and deeply relatable portrait of one American family is essential reading.

Author Notes

Bridgett M. Davis is Professor of Journalism and the Writing Professions at Baruch College, CUNY, where she teaches creative, film and narrative writing and is Director of the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program. A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she is the director of the award-winning feature film Naked Acts , as well as the author of two novels, Into the Go-Slow and Shifting Through Neutral . She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

In this memoir, Davis paints a moving portrait of her mother, who was a Numbers runner in Detroit for decades. The Numbers is an underground lottery that started in the early 1920s, largely in the black community. Fannie Davis was one of only two women who banked the Numbers, rare in the male-dominated field. The author learned at a young age to keep her mother's career a secret, despite her immense pride in Fannie's success and entrepreneurship. Fannie earned enough to purchase a beautiful home in Detroit for the Davis family and was known for her generosity toward her community throughout her life. Bridgett describes her parents' early days in Detroit as well as her own experiences with pivotal moments in history, including the rise of Motown, the city's 1967 uprising, and Michigan's vote to create a legal lottery system. 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.--Laura Chanoux Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

THE HEARTBEAT OF WOUNDED KNEE: Native America From 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer. (Riverhead, $28.) This response to Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" highlights the numerous achievements of Native Americans over the past century, and celebrates their resilience and adaptability in the face of prejudice, violence and the many other obstacles placed in their way. HARK, by Sam Lipsyte. (Simon & Schuster, $27.) The attraction and repulsion between a would-be messiah and his apostle anchors this madcap skewering of contemporary culture packed with fake gurus, cheating spouses, junk-food obsessions and yoga. INHERITANCE: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro. (Knopf, $24.95.) A DNA test submitted on a whim upends Shapiro's assumptions about her family history and forms the basis for her new book, a searching exploration of the power of blood ties to shape our sense of who we are. AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES, by Chigozie Obioma. (Little, Brown, $28.) A sweeping epic centered on a fraught romance between a humble poultry farmer and the daughter of a prosperous chief, Obioma's new novel travels from rural Nigeria to Cyprus and to the cosmic domain of the Igbo guardian spirit who watches over and recounts the proceedings. ARISTOTLE'S WAY: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life, by Edith Hall. (Penguin Press, $27.) Aristotle was concerned with how to achieve a virtuous, happy life. Hall sees his answer as a source of great comfort, his most important insight being that people need to find their own purpose and search out a middle way - "nothing in excess," the philosopher said. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO FANNIE DAVIS: My Mother's Life in the Detroit Numbers, by Bridgett M. Davis. (Little, Brown, $28.) Davis's heartwarming memoir honors her remarkable mother, who made a good life for her family in the '60s and '70s. THE FALCONER, by Dana Czapnik. (Atria, $25.) In this electric debut novel, 17-year-old Lucy's coming-of-age is powerfully shaped by her encounters with basketball and New York City itself, even as she constantly brushes up against the constrictions society places on her sex. IN MY MIND'S EYE: A Thought Diary, by Jan Morris. (Liveright, $24.95.) The beloved nonagenarian writer shares a year of observations - of herself and of the changes she's observed. TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH, by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer. (Dial, $17.99; ages 9 to 12.) Told in a series of frantic emails and other correspondence, this hilarious novel follows two girls who have never met - one in California, one in New York - who learn that their single dads plan to marry each other. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

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 © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. ix
Prologuep. 3
Part I Hitsville, USAp. 15
Part II Hey, You Never Knowp. 123
Part III Living Takes Gutsp. 211
Acknowledgmentsp. 295
Sourcesp. 301