While the secrets uncovered in JB Hamilton Queen's new novel, A Dagger in the Cup may appear fictionalized and outlandish, the startling reality reveals a time when racism, fear, and ignorance grew so strongly that thousands of innocent people were sterilized and sent to live in a community on the outskirts of society just under a century ago in Amherst County, Virginia.
JB Hamilton Queen scoured the Internet looking for research about her own Cherokee heritage when she came across an article entitled, "Southeastern Indians Claim Their Heritage." After the first sentence, 'Kenneth Branham remembers when it was illegal to be an Indian in Amherst County, Va.,' Queen became enthralled with one of America's darkest secrets surrounding racial purity. She spent close to the next decade reading and researching everything she could about the racial purity movement that quickly spread across the United States until it reached Adolf Hitler and sparked the horrific events of the Holocaust in Europe during World War II. She discovered that the Racial Integrity Act, a law passed by the Virginia Assembly in 1924, until it was overturned by the Supreme Court ruling Loving v. Virginia in 1967, made claiming any race beyond "white" or "black" illegal and punishable by imprisonment. Those who were deemed "feeble minded" were forcibly sterilized under the act. The law also expanded the anti-miscegenation laws already in place in Virginia at the time, which banned any interracial marriages between whites and non-whites. Shortly after, fifteen other states across the nation enacted similar legislation. "I felt compelled to tell the story," Queen explains. "People don't know about this, and that's why I wanted to write the book."
A Dagger in the Cup is a new genre of fiction literature heavily threaded with historical fact called "Faction". Queen chose the rural mountains of Amherst, Virginia to work as the setting in the novel. "I needed a young woman from the mountains, who was strong enough to overcome great odds to preserve her right to motherhood," Queen said, and shortly afterwards Shug Yokem, the novel's protagonist, was born. Typical of the Faction genre, Shug is a completely fictionalized character of the author's invention, yet her basic literary skills allow her to read the very documents that Queen used during her research for the book. Sixteen-year-old Shug lived in isolated bliss with her mother and siblings in the mountains until she discovers her stepfather's deadly secret and is subsequently imprisoned and institutionalized in Lynchburg in the early 1940s. There Shug discovers from the nurses at the institution what is really going on in the surgery room, and escapes into the unfamiliar Blue Ridge Mountains in a desperate attempt to save her family.