Books

the story behind the book

My mom, queen of the numbers

david wilson for the boston globe

Bridgett Davis already had a career in journalism, as well as two novels and other writing projects, before she sat down to write her first nonfiction book, “The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers.” The book blends memoir with the compelling social history of the numbers, a lottery game that operated outside the law but very much inside the context of African-American life and culture.

“I knew I wanted to honor her,” said Davis. Growing up in a warm, middle-class household led by a strong working mother, she always understood the value of the numbers. “What I discovered in the process of researching the book was the history of the numbers,” Davis said. “I read a lot of books. I was very fortunate to team up with a scholar who was at the same time writing a dissertation about the numbers in Detroit. So she led me to a plethora of original documents.”

Though lotteries are not only legal but state-run these days, back when Davis was growing up, she knew to keep her mother’s business private, at least from outsiders, especially whites. “The secret wasn’t there because anyone felt any shame,” she said. “It turns out that folks were proud of the numbers, completely proud, because it transformed a lot of lives.’’

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“What I witnessed never looked like gambling. What I witnessed was a cultural experience that was communal,” she said, adding, “It is a form of play. It’s an opportunity to take a little fraction of your income and take a chance at winning.”

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Davis said she’d always been in awe of her powerful mother, but in the process of researching and writing the book, “my admiration grew and I didn’t think it could.”

Bridgett Davis will read at 7 p.m. Monday at Porter Square Books.

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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.