We don’t quite often hear success stories such as these –Tyler Perry takes us on a journey from his obscure and often traumatic beginnings to the success he has attained in his 2017 memoir, Higher is Waiting.
After revealing his plans last week to turn 37 acres of Fort Mac land into an entertainment and residential district, we venture back into the media mogul’s insurmountable rise to fame through his most recent best-selling novel.
Perry’s compelling story embodies the true ‘American dream’ - one that continues to inspire millions of marginalised people of colour around the world today.
His current net worth is 1 billion USD, which is a far cry from his humble beginnings of being born into a lower-class family in the segregated 1960s American south. Race and class injustices were still very much prevalent, and the civil rights movement was at its peak during this time.
Higher is Waiting speaks about how his faith and God's grace helped him to overcome most, if not all, of his struggles and how it also helped him ascend to his position as not only a playwright, writer, actor, and film maker but also song writer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.
Now owning a movie studio in Atlanta, Georgia, effectively securing his creative empire and legacy whilst creating thousands of jobs in the industry, one can say that he is a blessing to not only his family but also to countless other dreamers.
“Today I know, without a doubt, that what I was experiencing then, and what I continue to experience now, is the essence, power and grace of God. There is no other explanation for the ways in which my life has unfolded and the ways it continues to grow,” he says in the introduction.
This autobiographical account starts off with Perry detailing key moments in his childhood that shaped him. He grew up in New Orleans, with an abusive and alcoholic father who would often beat him and his mother in fits of unprovoked rage.
This period in Perry’s life caused anxiety, fear, resentment, and not to mention emotional abuse. However, there were also characters in his early life that inspired him such as-- his Aunt Mae. Several weekends a month, Perry would spend time with Aunt Mae, which for him were coveted moments of pure laughter, joy, love, church-going, gospel singing and learning about the love of Jesus.
“In Aunt Mae’s presence, I could breathe deeply in the sanctuary of nature, the freedom of unconditional love, and the benevolence of God’s embrace,” he states in chapter 1.
His mother, Maxine was also a very strong force in his life who hadn’t yet let her faith be shaken by her circumstances. Despite being a victim of domestic abuse, she taught him about the power of prayer and remained positive in light of their situation.
One interesting character that did stand out in the novel was Mr Butler, a point of light for Perry. He was a blind older gentleman who wore dark glasses, a brown suit and sold candies day after day in front of Carter G. Woodsen Highschool for a living.
Mr Butler needed daily assistance for someone to help him cross the street and fortunately for him, 13-year-old Perry always offered and it was a daily routine that prevented the older man from falling victim to scams. Perry would walk through dangerous streets of gangs, drug dealers, and prostitutes each morning just to get to school but he and Mr Butler created a deep bond of friendship, and according to Perry: “Despite his blindness, he was one of the first souls who truly saw me, on the inside.”
The book stands out because not only is it a first-person account of Perry’s life and his rise to fame, but it’s also an easy read, all 200 pages worth. He quotes scripture at the end of each chapter to enlighten his readers, and he gives advice that they can use in their everyday lives: say for instance, the power of forgiveness or the virtue of waiting patiently for what you hope for. He uses his past experiences to gauge the reader in a lesson.
The climactic part of the story was Perry’s struggle in making it in the industry. He naturally harboured a talent for writing, which he discovered in his late teens/early twenties and would later put it to good use in his plays.
By the age of 21, he moved to Atlanta to start anew but this move was full of hardships for the first few years. He would take on jobs he didn’t enjoy in order to pay rent, lived pay check to pay check, and spent all of his money on producing his plays each year. There have been times where he would go homeless due to the lack of funds.
One particular scene comes to mind: in chapter 37, he states that after putting all of his money into producing his plays he then fell behind on rent. The landlords threw all of his belongings out on the street when he drove home, and as he gathered them to place in his trunk, it started pouring rain. Many people would have given up by then but something inside of him told him to keep going, it was his unshakeable faith.
He would put out a show each year–hiring actors, building scenery, and renting props for his play, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and during the first opening night in 1993, only 30 people showed up. He played the show in different cities, including both in Louisiana and Georgia, however with no success for five years---until his big break happened in 1998.
It was a freezing night in Atlanta, and Perry was on the verge of giving up and thought about taking up a job at a a local phone company, when he heard a voice say ‘I tell you when it’s over. You don’t get to tell me when it’s over. Now get up and look out the window’.
He looked out of the window and saw a huge line of people waiting to get into the theatre. It was unbelievable to him and he acknowledged that voice as the voice of God—the one that kept him going despite all of the hard years of planting.
Miraculously, that night his play, I Know I’ve Been Changed was a success, and a hit. A few weeks later, the show sold out at the Fox Theatre, and before long he was playing at arena’s with around 20 thousand seats, each one filling up every time. He only grew from there as he was approached by top tv producers and agents. He finally found his big break at nearly 30-years-old.
What’s endearing about this novel is Perry’s ability to connect and engage with the audience in a way that’s not jarring or complicated. People can relate to human stories like these: homelessness, abuse, relationships with others, creativity, goals, dreams, and so forth.
It’s extremely relatable to many people and that also translates in his plays. His plays are about human relationships, about abuse, trauma, but also healing, forgiveness, hope, and lastly love.
He often states that his most popular character, Madea, is a combination of both his aunt Mae and his mother. Both god-fearing women who love Jesus but they are also tough, funny, protective, and brutally honest. It’s no wonder his shows both on screen and off screen continue to spark interest, high ratings, and a mass following from people of all walks of life.
One of his most recent accomplishments was when he purchased land off of a former confederate army base in Atlanta, Georgia for his business—Tyler Perry studios, where he can film, direct, hire actors, shoot on sets, and much more. It’s almost poetic justice because the Confederate army was known in the civil war for fighting to keep slavery, but this African American man now owns that land and now owns his own movie studio! Tyler Perry’s star keeps rising and others have found success through him—countless actors, crew, and other employees have been able to go higher because of him.
Despite his newly found fame and material wealth, it was surprising but also pleasing to read that he also talks incessantly about the value of giving back to others, charity, and kindness—many values that other authors tend to overlook.
In many ways not only is it an autobiography, but it’s also a self-motivating book for others who need it for inspiration or direction. As an easy read, it’s easily accessible to all. The scripture verses at the end of each chapter encourage people to reach higher in their own lives and that despair doesn’t last forever.
Perry also discusses his own mental health struggles and the importance of not letting anger or resentment dominate your life, as it can set you back and do almost the opposite from moving you forward to where you want to go. A final quote in the last paragraph states:
“You might be struggling right now, but you’re in the climb. People may not believe in you, but it’s part of the climb. They may take shots at you, but stay in the climb. You may need to stand alone, but you’re in the climb. Even if you’re not where you want to be right now, I want to say to you what my friend said to me: ‘this is the best part –now turn around, look how far you’ve come. God has brought you here, you won’t be abandoned, stay in the climb’.”
After reading this novel, it is definitely a remarkable story of perseverance and a Kindred recommended read. We’re hoping it inspires you future readers as well to go higher and to not give up. No matter where you’ve come from, no matter what your race or background is, your income, your age, and so forth, you can always go higher.