Tyler Perry shares painful past, hopes for the future in “Higher is Waiting”

Photo courtesy of Tyler Perry Studios

Tyler Perry strolls into Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball and wonders if he’s really supposed to be there.

The year is 2005. Just a few years prior, he’d been so broke he was kicked out of his apartment when he couldn’t scrape together the rent. He’d lost his belongings when he couldn’t afford the payment on the storage unit he moved his stuff into when his car, on the verge of being repossessed, became home.

Yet here he is at a party with luminaries including then-Sen. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand and Quincy Jones.

“Just standing there, taking it all in, was a sort of out-of-body experience,” he writes in “Higher Is Waiting,” being released Tuesday.

“How did this happen? How did I get here? How did I go from the child struggling in New Orleans? How did I make it from the young man living in a car and counting his pennies?”

He’ll discuss moments like this and others he shares in the new book at a live appearance at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Fox Theatre. (Pro tip: ARRIVE EARLY. When a Tyler Perry live event is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. that means he will be on stage, talking, at 3 p.m. I once attended a Madea play and, in character, he had a big time calling out latecomers. “Sit the hell down!” he called in his Madea voice.)

Tickets range from $38.50-$128.50 plus fees, and include a signed copy of the book. They’re available at the box office (660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta), by calling 855-285-8499 or online at FoxTheatre.org.

While Tyler Perry productions such as his latest comedy, “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween,” are funny and lighthearted, this event will be more serious.

“I don’t have all the answers, but in these 48 years, I have learned a great deal and I put it in this book. I’m going to sit and talk about the things I have learned,” Perry said during an interview this week. “I feel like it’s going to be a bit of hope, a bit of church, a bit of ministry, a bit of joy and laughter. No, it’s not a Madea play.”

The book is part autobiography, part Bible study, with each chapter concluding with Scripture and some points to ponder. Perry shares painful moments, such as memories from his childhood growing up with an abusive father, and happier anecdotes, such as the times he and his mother would visit a beloved aunt in the country. He talks about the journey from staging a play in Midtown Atlanta where all of 30 people came to the point where he was able to purchase the former Fort McPherson Army base property, having twice outgrown studio space.

“I am completely in awe,” he said. “Every day I drive through these gates, I am completely blown away that for some reason, I’ve become the steward over this land.”

With its biblical passages and life-affirming exercises, “Higher Is Waiting” feels timeless. Yet with recent headlines full of rancor and tragedy, it feels relevant to the moment.

“I didn’t know, when I was writing it, that the timing would be so perfect,” Perry said. “I didn’t know all this trouble and hell and heartache would be going on.”

The bike path near the World Trade Center site where eight people died after authorities say a suspect drove into pedestrians on Oct. 31, killing eight, is near Perry’s New York home. His toddler, Aman, to whom the book is dedicated, often enjoys playing right in that area, he said. A week later, a church in a tiny Texas town became a crime scene when a gunman opened fire, killing 26.

“It’s really devastating to me. I’m really emotional when I think about it,” Perry said. “I look at the NFL protests to Charlottesville to New York City to the (Texas) church this past weekend to the hurricanes and on and on and on. And all of the division in the country. It’s all divide and conquer.”

His hope for those who join him on Sunday and read his book afterward is a spirit of healing and reconciliation.

“We are more alike than different,” he said. “We can all have great conversation and respect each other.”

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