Book Club: Emma Warren, Writer

Welcome to our Book Club series. Reading has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a curiosity into what other people were reading, often questioning my family members about the books they had on their shelves or at the pool. Over the last few years, I’ve reconnected with that joy and it has become a constant with my friends, sharing our recent favourite reads, what we’ve taken away from them and what we are excited about exploring next. Bringing those conversations to 909, our Book Club series will delve deeper into other creative’s reading history from what they enjoyed when they were growing up, their most impactful read, quotes and more. In order to extend this community of readers, there is a bonus question for those who answer where they recommend a book(s) to next person who contributes to the club.

Next up in our Book Club series we have South London-based journalist and author Emma Warren, the mind behind the widely acclaimed book Dance Your Way Home. Published last year, Dance Your Way Home sits at the intersection of memoir, social and cultural history, diving into our relationship with the dancefloor and why we dance – from the mundane moments in our living room to the ritualistic experiences we witness in clubs of all kinds. Emma is also the author Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (2019) which documented the multi-use building based off of Kingsland Road in East London and meant so much to her and many others. What was originally meant to a pamphlet turned into a book and audio book which was named MOJO’s book of the year. Fiercely dedicated to documenting the rich history of cultural venues and spaces that she experiences, in 2020, Emma published a pamphlet to help others do the same, focusing on telling stories of a space or community. The aim for this to be able archive and explain why grassroots venues, basements, skateparks, co-ops and community centres matter – a series that was meant to be focused on reshaping our post-COVID world but feels like it’s going to be relevant for many years to come.


Your favourite childhood book? 

I learned to read really young, before I started primary school. I would read a lot, often really fast, and if I liked a book I’d read it three times. I remember a book of fairy tales with a mermaid on the cover and another about an owl who was afraid of the dark.

I bought a copy of Anne of Green Gables from a jumble sale when I was eight or nine. I immediately fell in love with Anne and immediately considered her a kindred spirit. The book didn’t have a dust jacket and so I had no idea it was a classic and it was a great surprise to me when I discovered that other people had heard of it. By the time I went to secondary school I was reading the 1980s blockbusters my parents liked to buy – Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, Shogun, The Clan of the Cave Bear, that sort of thing. The Hobbit was the first book that I actively disliked, meaning it was also the first book I didn’t finish.

Other tween and early teen reading included the Judy Blume novels and Shirley Collins’ Lace (sex education through literature). I was an avid magazine reader, first with Twinkle then Mandy, which was full of stories about girls who slipped through time or accidentally took an elevator into hell or who had double lives, and then moved on to Just 17 and Mizz, before finding music mags like i-D and THE FACE.


Most impactful/influential book you’ve read? 

I had to stand in front of my bookshelves to answer this. Eventually I landed on a handful of answers, leaning heavily towards non-fiction:

Jon Savage England’s Dreaming. This history of punk draws in everything around it with incredible deftness. It’s a deep social history that bears repeated reading.

Saidiya Hartman Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals. This book is stunning on every level. It digs deep into archival cracks and crevasses to bring a lost generation of young Black women into the light. Content, method and intention-wise, it’s hugely inspiring.

Barbara Ehrenreich Dancing In The Streets: A History of Collective Joy. The photographer Georgina Cook lent me this book when I was early in the research for Dance Your Way Home. I loved it, and it gave me a high bar to aim for. I used one of Georgina’s images from FWD>> at Plastic People on the cover of the hardback, which was another nice full circle. The new paperback features an image by Teddy Fitzgerald and it also capture the squash and the joy of the dance.


A quote that has stuck with you?

There’s a phrase in Jazz by Toni Morrison where she describes the ‘unreasonable optimism’ of the men and women who made that form of music in the early part of the 20th century. I refer to this idea all the time; that positivity can be a form of defiance.


Favourite writer? 

I can’t pick a favourite favourite because that changes all the time, but I really love American music writer Hanif Abdurraquib for the way he combines prismatic cultural thinking with straight-up beautiful sentences.


Favourite genre? 

Percentage-wise I’m probably a 60/40 split between non-fiction and poetry so instead of choosing one I’m gonna redirect this question to recommend DIY publisher Rough Trade Books. They put out short form, cross-genre good stuff.


A book that you recommend everyone should read in their lifetime? 

I’m typing this from an Airbnb on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast, so I’d have to say Glenn Patterson’s brilliant novel The International. It’s centred around 18-year-old barman Danny, working in a city centre hotel, in January 1967, on one of the last ordinary days before The Troubles kicked in.


Your favourite setting to read in?  

Either on the bus somewhere around south east London or lying on the sofa with my legs up on the back cushions like an off-centre capital L.


Are you someone who shares books with friends? If so, which book have you shared recently? 

Yes. If you come round my house I’ll probably press a book into your hands. Two books I’ve most recently bought for friends or given to friends are McKenzie Wark’s celebration of dancing as an aide to transition Raving and Kieran Yates totally brilliant All The Houses I’ve Ever Lived In. It brings a rare joy and Kieran’s super-sharp intellect to the subject of home.


What are you currently reading?

A writer friend suggested that I read a 1986 book by New York Times writer Francis Fitzgerald called Cities On The Hill. She tells the story of four American communities – the then-new gay community of The Castro in San Francisco, an evangelical church, a retirement community in Florida and the Rajneeshpuram featured in the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. I’m only one section in but I understand why my friend thought I’d like it – we share a similar interest in reporting from the ground-up.



A recommendation for the next Book Club contributor to read? 

Salena Godden’s Pessimism is for Lightweights. Rough Trade Books recently revamped and reissued this brilliant collection.


Emma Warren’s Dance Your Way is available to buy here and Emma will doing a talk at Stoke Newington Literary Festival this Saturday 8th June – buy tickets here.