Wichita State professor makes career in all things fiction

  • Darren DeFrain is the social professor of English and director of the writing program at Wichita State.
  • DeFrain has written award winning novels, memoirs and essays, created a graphic novel, teaches on graphic novels/storytelling and is actively working on a graphic novel app. 

Many know Darren DeFrain as the social professor of English and director of the writing program at Wichita State University. Those that have taken his class or had a 20-minute conversation with him know that DeFrain doesn’t just teach: he lives and breathes fiction. 

“Fictional characters and their stories are just so appealing,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain discovered comic books in the fourth grade. He was instantly drawn in by the engaging stories and characters. 

“Comics are a great way to fulfill your imagination and engage with your favorite heroes and heroines,” DeFrain said. 

Later in life, DeFrain started reading graphic novels. His favorite one so far is Daniel Clowes’ “Ghost World,” a story about two girls seeking authentic relationships in a consumeristic and cynical world. 

“It’s stuck with me,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain’s passion for fiction has influenced his career. He’s written novels, memoirs and essays, created a graphic novel, teaches on graphic novels and storytelling, and is working on a graphic novel app. 

“If I can make someone say, ‘Wow, fiction stories are great,’ I will have done my job,” DeFrain said. 

Defrain's novels and other works

From 2005 to 2008, DeFrain published two novels, “The Salt Palace” and “Inside & Out.” Both received praise from critics and audiences, and “The Salt Palace” was nominated for several best-of-the-year lists, including The Kansas City Star. 

Recently, DeFrain branched off into graphic novels. 

Wichita State History professor Jay Price, Jessica Mirasol of WSU Special Collections, and artists Genna Pennington and Miles Foley are working on a commemorative graphic novel of Wichita State’s history called “The Wichita State Story.” DeFrain writes the story with Price and acts as a consultant for the creation process.

“I’m excited for Wichita State to see the finished product,” DeFrain said.

If I can make someone say ‘wow, fiction stories are great', I will have done my job.
Darren DeFrain, 
social professor of English and director of the writing program

DeFrain is also working with Dr. Francis Connor, an English professor, on a history chronicling Kansas punk music from 1970 to 1990. 

“The history will look at all kinds of punk bands from Wichita, all the way to Manhattan,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain as a English and composition professor

DeFrain teaches on the history of graphic novels and composition. Last semester, he taught about narrative structure in video games. 

“That was a lot of fun,” DeFrain said. “The students blew me away with the stuff they knew.”

When DeFrain isn’t teaching, he is helping his students create and publish their graphic novels. 

“My students want the opportunity to create graphic novels, and I want to help them,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain hopes to create more collaborative opportunities for his students. 

“I'm hoping that’s something that we can bring to the campus soon,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain's innovative smartphone app

DeFrain is working with a Wichita State graduate to design an app that makes graphic novels more accessible. 

“The app will help visually impaired people be able to understand the layout of graphic narratives,” DeFrain said. 

DeFrain says the learning curve was pretty steep for him, but the reward is worth it.

“Helping visually impaired students experience graphic novels is all the reward I need.”

DeFrain hopes to have a prototype finished in December. 

For more information about DeFrain’s works, email him at darren.defrain@wichita.edu

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