Novelists Margaret Atwood, Rose Tremain and Gillian Slovo have been shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.
Veteran author Margaret Atwood has been shortlisted
The award, which honours the best in fiction written in English by women, carries with it a £30,000 prize.
Shirley Hazzard, Andrea Levy and newcomer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie also make the list.
A panel of judges, including comedienne and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and the author Minette Walters, whittled down the 20-strong longlist to six.
The winner of the prize, which was set up in 1996 to promote and celebrate women's writing, will be announced on 8 June.
Martin Higgs, Waterstone's Literary Editor, told BBC News Online: "It's a real mix of old and new names.
Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake
Shirley Hazzard - The Great Fire
Andrea Levy - Small Island
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Purple Hibiscus,
Gillian Slovo - Ice Road,
Rose Tremain - The Colour
"Some of the bigger American writers, like Toni Morrison, with Love, and Anne Tyler, with The Amateur Marriage, are some of the notable exceptions from the shortlist.
"The book I am most happy about being on the list is Small Island by Andrea Levy which is one of the best books I have read all year.
"We've also got Margaret Atwood with her 11th novel, and on the other hand we have got this really, really good book called Purple Hibiscus, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is the first Nigerian novelist to be nominated.
"She is not particularly well known by the public, but she deserves to be better known."
US author Valerie Martin won the Orange Prize last year
Last year's winner was US author Valerie Martin who took the prize with her novel Property.
Sandi Toksvig, chair of judges said: "This year's Orange Prize shortlist ranges from the fledgling author to the famous; the factually based story to the fantastical; from the minutiae of the domestic to the broad sweep of the political.
"Not bad for six books."
The Orange Prize for Fiction is open to any woman writing in English, regardless of their nationality or country of residence.