Ohio State Newark Hosted Author of New Memoir, Panel of Female Writers
The Ohio State University at Newark welcomed Bridgett Davis to celebrate the release of her compelling new memoir, The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, on Feb. 28. The award-winning fiction writer read from her book to a full audience of both students and community members.
The World According to Fannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers is Davis’ story of growing up in Detroit in the ‘60s and ‘70s while keeping a huge family secret: The business her mother ran – the one that brought the family out of poverty and into the middle class – was illegal. Her mother, Fannie Mai Drumwright Davis Robinson, was a numbers runner. Davis’ rigorously researched story provides insight into 20th century black history, a glimpse of Detroit in its Motor City/Motown heyday and a moving tale of one woman’s determination.
Davis read a portion of the memoir describing an encounter she had in the first grade, when a teacher asked her how many pairs of shoes she had—implying that she had too many. When Davis told her mother, Fannie Davis took Davis to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy a pair of yellow shoes. “You’re going to wear these to school tomorrow. And you better tell that damn teacher of yours that you actually have a dozen pairs of shoes, you hear me?” Davis said her mother told her. “My mother’s message to black and white folks alike was clear,” read Davis. “It’s nobody’s business what I do for my children, nor how I manage to do it.”
While at Ohio State Newark, Davis also participated in a panel discussion with fellow writers Karen Thomas and Rhoda McKinney-Jones about their career paths from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to varied writing careers.
Davis said she realized she needed to leave daily journalism when she found herself covering a meeting and longing to be at a creative writing workshop. She moved to New York City to become a freelance writer and professor, which gave her the time and resources to write fiction and produce a film. “I think with anything you’re doing in life, any profession or passion, it is an evolution,” said Davis.
In her 25 years in daily journalism, Thomas fought to get opportunities to write in-depth pieces about topics she is passionate about. She shared her newsroom insight: “I had wonderful mentors, so definitely find those people who can mentor you in the newsroom. Also, you have to find your allies and pick your battles wisely.”
McKinney-Jones left newspaper journalism when repeatedly asked by theologians to help them write their memoirs. She noted, “When you think about it, everyone has a story worth writing. You just have to find and connect with what is unique about your story.”
Davis teaches creative, film and narrative writing and directs the Sidney Harmen Writer-in-Residence program at The City University of New York’s Baruch College. She is also the writer/director of the award-winning feature film Naked Acts. “As a teacher, I make sure to teach my students everything I wish I had been taught about the newspaper business,” Davis told panel attendees.
Thomas was a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune covering education, and a feature writer specializing in family issues, narrative writing and column writing for 13 years at the Dallas Morning News. Since 2006, she has been a freelance writer submitting essays, author interviews and book reviews for several publications. Thomas is also a professor of practice in the Division of Journalism at Southern Methodist University teaching a range of classes from beginning reporting to literary journalism.
“You need perseverance. You need to tighten up your skills. Have those multimedia production skills that are needed today, but most importantly tighten up your writing skills because those are still the basics of the news business. Also, remember to eat well, sleep and take care of yourself,” advised Thomas to the students interested in pursuing journalism.
McKinney-Jones has been a reporter, editor and ghostwriter for 30 years. She has focused on assisting emerging authors with their first works, as well as editing and writing for pastors and theologians. She has edited three books published by Judson Press. McKinney-Jones has also been a daily reporter for the Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune and the Atlanta Constitution & Journal; feature writer and reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; managing editor and contributor to Trumpet Magazine; and national correspondent for the National Newspaper Publishers Association that serves 135 African-American newspapers across the country. She was an assistant editor at Ebony magazine.
“I love telling other peoples’ stories as a ghostwriter. I can really dive into their passion and use it to tell a compelling tale. Also, I get to make my own schedule, determine my own workload and write only about things or people I want to write about,” said McKinney-Jones.
All agreed that students hoping to pursue a career in writing should write every day and read print books and newspapers regularly.
The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s inclusive of diversity, challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.