This interview concerns Christopher Vandegrift’s new book Policy Pete’s Dream Book out from Make Now later this year.
Caleb Beckwith: I’d like to begin with a talk that I saw you give at the University of Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Could speak to this performance, how it informs the premise of the book?
Christopher Vandegrift: Sure. I think a good way to frame things is to say that the overall project is one of two related, yet independent parts. First, there’s the book and, second, there’s the performance that you saw, which contextualizes the book but also functions as its own thing. The book is a really good entry point though, so maybe I should start with that. So, the book – Policy Pete’s Dream Book – is an appropriation and reworking of a cheap paperback by the same title, which was originally published in Harlem in 1933 and sold as an aid for gamblers who played the numbers—that is, for individuals who engaged in numbers gambling. The way that numbers gambling worked was very much akin to a daily lottery. Players could bet on any three-digit number between 000 – 999 and the winning numbers were chosen by methods that, although they varied depending on the particular locale and racket, were usually wholly random. Dream books, of which Policy Pete’s was just one title out of many, catered to individuals seeking an easy means to beat the randomness of this system: “mystical” means by which they could win it big.